Olympic committee says “No” to meteorite medals during Sochi games

Reporters gather around the largest piece of the Chelyabinsk meteorite fall, which was lifted from the bottom of the Chebarkul Lake and placed on display in a local museum in Chelyabinsk last fall. It weighs about 1,442 lbs.
Credit: Reuters / Andrey Tkachenko

Apparently meteorites and medals don’t mix. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has told Russian authorities that they can’t give out the special meteorite medals commemorating the anniversary of last year’s spectacular Chelyabinsk fireball to gold-medal-winning athletes during ceremonies.

It’s perfectly fine to do so after the Olympic games and separate from them but not before. The IOC wants to keep the games free of any outside influences especially during competitions and ceremonies.

A worker creates a special souvenir Olympic medal with a fragment of the Chelyabinsk meteorite at the MAOK art workshop in Zlatoust, Russia recently. In addition to their gold medals, winning athletes were to each receive an additional gold and meteorite medal. Credit: RIA Novosti / Aleksandr Kondratuk

While disappointed, I understand the decision. Even though meteorite-embedded medals are anything but commercial, I suppose someone might suggest other less savory commemorations connected to politics, battles or buildings.

We hope the athletes will get their due after the 23rd.

Compilation of dashcam and security camera videos of the Chelyabinsk fireball

Today marks the first anniversary of the Feb. 15, 2013 Chelyabinsk meteorite fall – the largest witnessed meteorite fall since the Tunguska Event in 1908 which also occurred over Russia. Enjoy the truly amazing video compilation. If you’d like more information and pictures showing just how amazing this meteorite is, check out today’s article on Universe Today.

10 Sochi Olympians will win gold medals studded with Chelyabinsk meteorites

A worker creates a special souvenir Olympic medal with a fragment of the Chelyabinsk meteorite at the MAOK art workshop in Zlatoust, Russia. In addition to their gold medals, winners on Feb. 15 will each receive an additional gold and meteorite medal. Credit: RIA Novosti / Aleksandr Kondratuk

Athletes who win gold in Sochi Winter Olympics on February 15 will take away something even more valuable – a fragment of the Russian fireball that blew up over Chelyabinsk, Russia on the same day a year ago.

“We will hand out our medals to all the athletes who will win gold on that day, because both the meteorite strike and the Olympic Games are global events,” said Alexei Betekhtin, culture minister for the Chelyabinsk region.

The great fireball over Chelyabinsk, Russia captured on a dashcam on Feb. 15, 2013. Credit: Aleksandr Ivanov

The Chelyabinsk fall, the largest witnessed meteorite fall in over 100 years, exploded with 20-30 times the force of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima at an altitude of just 14.5 miles (23 km). Before it detonated into thousands of mostly gravel-sized meteorites and dust, it’s estimate the incoming meteoroid was as tall as a five-story building. The shock wave from the explosion shattered windows up and down the city, injuring nearly 1,500 people.

A beautiful, fluted 889g (1.96 lb.) fragment of Chelyabinsk. Cube is 1 cm (1/2″) across. Credit: Alexander of Chelya

The largest fragment, weighing 1,442 lbs. (654 kg), punched a hole in the ice of Lake Chebarkul. Divers raised it from the bottom muck on Oct. 16 last year and rafted it ashore, where scientists and excited onlookers watched as the massive space rock was hoisted onto a scale and promptly broke into three pieces. Even the scale broke from the weight.

A chip of Chelyabinsk will be affixed to each of the special medals; 10 will go to the gold medallists and another 40 will be sold to private collectors.

The lucky gold medal winners will received the cosmically-inspired medals on February 15 for the following events: men’s 1,500 meter speed skating, the women’s 1,000 meters and the men’s 1,500 short track, the women’s cross-country skiing relay, the men’s K-125 ski jump, the women’s super-giant slalom and men’s skeleton events.

An example of the gold medal that will be awarded to Olympians in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi which begins Feb. 7. Credit: Sochi 2014

“We are made of star stuff,” as the late Carl Sagan once said. While the special medals bear space rocks billions of years old, consider the gold itself. Once thought to have been forged in supernovae explosions, recent research has shown that most gold is created when neutron stars collide and merge.

Neutron stars are the remnant collapsed cores of supergiant stars after they explode as supernovae. Although most of the material in the collisions disappears down a newly-formed black hole, some of it’s ejected at high speed into space where neutrons crashing into neutrons build heavy elements like gold and platinum.

What about the silver medals and the copper used in the bronze? Those elements formed in the tremendous energy liberated in long-ago supernovae blasts. So while only a few lucky ones will get a meteorite medal, all winners will receive souvenirs from the most cataclysmic events in the known universe.