Hand-engraved medals clad in precious metal and embedded with fragments of the infamous Chelyabinsk meteorite will be presented to the Olympic athletes who capture the gold in their respective events on the ninth day of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Only 10 meteorite medals will be awarded on February 15, the day that marks the one-year anniversary of the rare and terrifying event that saw a 55-foot, 7,000-ton space rock flash across the Russian sky and crash down with the force of 500,000 tons of TNT. An additional 40 medals will be sold to private collectors.
A spokesperson for the Chelyabinsk Ministry of Culture claimed that each medal in the limited run of 50 went through a painstaking 12-step production process carried out by the artisans of Zlatoust, a town famous for artistic metal engravings.
The technique for mounting each irregularly shaped meteorite fragment in the center of the medal was described as “intricate” by the spokesperson, who added, unbelievably, that “it takes up to nine people to embed just one piece.”
The Chelyabinsk meteorite is composed of meteoric iron, sulfites and olivine. Olivine of gem-quality is called peridot.
Seven events will be awarding gold medals on February 15: the men’s 1,500-meter speed skating, the women’s 1,000-meter and men’s 1,500-meter short track, the women’s cross-country skiing relay, the men’s K-125 ski jump, the women’s super giant slalom and the men’s skeleton event.
Winners that day will be taking home two medals — the regular Olympic gold medal and the special commemorative meteorite medal. The gold-clad space-rock medals will be presented in a separate ceremony conducted by the Chelyabinsk Ministry of Culture.
“We will hand out our [meteorite] medals to all the athletes who will win gold on that day, because both the meteorite strike and the Olympic Games are global events,” Chelyabinski Region Culture Minister Alexei Betekhtin said in a statement.
In February of 2013, news agencies reported that the meteorite responsible for sending shock waves through the city of Chelyabinsk was a blessing in disguise for some of its impoverished residents. When the meteorite exploded, it showered the city with thousands of tiny black stones that were worth more than their weight in gold.
The New York Times recounted how strangers were offering stacks of rubles worth hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to local residents for the meteorite fragments.
The meteorite injured about 1,500 people and smashed windows in Chelyabinsk and neighboring areas. Fortunately, no deaths were reported.