Image: Paralympic gold medal
Chris Helgren  /  Reuters file
A visitor to the Royal Canadian Mint in Vancouver displays a replica of a Paralympic gold medal featuring Braille script.
updated 2/25/2010 7:01:03 PM ET 2010-02-26T00:01:03

First the glove. No one gets near them without the glove.

Only with one hand properly sheathed in white cotton are visitors allowed to hold them — gold, silver and bronze Olympic and Paralympic medals on display at the Canadian mint in downtown Vancouver.

They have proved to be one of the most popular attractions of the Winter Games, with as many as 7,000 medalheads lining up every day to see the hardware. Waits can be as long as seven hours.

"We'll stand as long as it takes," said Christopher Ridge of Vancouver, who was waiting with his two sons, 7 and 9, several hundred people back to get in one day this week.

"It's just so exciting to be able to touch a piece of the Olympics," he said. "They'll remember this forever."

No prints allowed
Inside the mint, each person is given a white glove — no prints allowed on the medals. They are attached to ribbons, just like the athletes' are, but the privilege of slipping a medal around your neck is reserved for Olympians.

This year's medals are among the heaviest in the history of the Winter Games, tipping the scales at as much as 1¼ pounds — about what a 20-ounce bottle of soda weighs.

They also have an unusual look — an undulating face, to evoke the landscape of British Columbia — and each is laser-etched with a unique design based on two original pieces of local artwork.

The wavy design has been criticized online, compared to microwaved Frisbee, a warped vinyl record or the melting clocks in the famous painting by Salvador Dali.

Coming out of the mint, Vancouverites were having none of it.

"I think they're unique, just like this is a unique place," said Callie Withers of West Vancouver, who said she had waited in line for more than an hour to hold the gold. "I think they're perfect. I wish I could wear one."

Sterling silver core
The gold medal actually has a sterling silver core. And the bronze is mostly copper. Vancouver organizers wanted it that way because copper looks less like gold than bronze. Plus it evokes cedar.

The medals are on display through Sunday, when the games end. Alexandre Reeves, a spokesman for the mint, said the institution was considering other ways to let Canadians see them.

"We thought, realistically, maybe 4,000 people a day would be a normal kind of turnout," he said. "The enthusiasm has been really, really surprising and flattering."

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