OLYMPIC GAMES

What is the Olympic diploma and who gets it?

Everyone knows the top-three finishers in an Olympic event are given medals, but what is less common knowledge is that athletes also get certificates.

What is the Olympic diploma and who gets it?
Matthias Hangst Getty Images

Whilst it is common knowledge that the first, second and third-place finishers in events at the Olympic Games are awarded gold, silver and bronze medals, respectively, the Olympic diploma is an altogether lesser-known prize. The top eight athletes in each competition are handed one of these, but what is it.

Olympic diploma gradually extended to top eight finishers

First awarded at the inaugural modern Summer Olympics, held in Athens in 1896, the diploma was originally given only to the winner and runner-up - who, incidentally, were also the only athletes to receive medals. It was not until the second edition of the Games, in Paris in 1900, that three medals were handed out.

The practice of giving out diplomas was then expanded over time to include lower finishers.

According to an International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesperson quoted by the New York Times, diplomas started going to the top three in each event at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, before the decision was made in 1949 to award the certificate to the top six.

In 1981, the IOC then opted to begin giving the Olympic diploma to the top eight.

What the Olympic diploma looks like?

The certificate bears the signatures of the president of the IOC and the head of the organising committee for that year's Games.

According to the New York Times, the diplomas awarded to the three medallists are gold, silver or bronze-hued, while the certificates given to those who finish from fourth to eighth come in a plainer design.

Here's an example of the Olympic diploma, sent to Dutch athlete Hans van Alphen after he finished fourth in the men's decathlon at the 2012 Summer Games in London:

You can see a higher-resolution image of an Olympic diploma, this one given to American snowboarder Elen Hight after she finished sixth in the half pipe at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, in this Slate article.