updated 7/3/2008 1:26:35 PM ET 2008-07-03T17:26:35

The gold, silver and bronze medals that will hang around the necks of athletes at next month’s Olympics were formally handed over Thursday to the organizers of the Beijing Games.

The 3,000 medals made for the Olympics, and a similar number for the Parlympics, were delivered by BHP Billiton, an Olympic sponsor and the world’s largest mining company, during an hour-long ceremony near Tiananmen Square.

“We’re fully prepared for the Beijing Games. All the preparations are now in place,” said Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing Olympics organizing committee.

BHP Billiton China president Clinton Dines said the company decided to become a major Olympic sponsor because it wanted to show its commitment to the host nation.

“China is very important to us. It’s 20 percent of our global business,” he said. “This is a big moment for China as a nation.”

The Melbourne, Australia-based company said the metals were shipped from its mines in Chile and Australia — 13 kilograms of gold, 1,340 kilograms of silver and 6,930 kilograms of copper. The medals, which also incorporate jade from Qinghai province, were made in China.

Olympian Gao Min, who won gold medals in diving at the 1988 and 1992 games, said the Beijing medals are more beautiful than previous ones.

“It is the dream of all athletes to win a medal at the games,” she said. “My Olympic medals represent the biggest honor of my lifetime and I cherish them.”

These Olympics mark the first time the medals were designed in a public competition.

The winning entry by China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts has a distinctive Chinese style with an embossed double-dragon design, a ring of jade inlay and a gold rim. Gold and jade signify virtues of honor and ethics, while the dragon connotes strength.

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