It's golden time for 1 designer

Redesign: A Greek woman wins the competition to alter the Olympic medals, the first change in 76 years.

Athens 2004

Athens Olympics

August 14, 2004|By Laura Vecsey | Laura Vecsey,SUN STAFF

HYDRA, Greece - Ferry boats cruised into the harbor in front of her jewelry shop. Sailboats glided toward the rocky pier. The sun beat down on the whitewashed facades of the square houses that line the hill as artist and designer Elena Votsi enjoyed another summer on her favorite Greek island.

But then again, it's not just another summer.

Votsi, 39, is still sorting out what it means to have taken such a distinguished role in Greek and Olympic history.

When they hand out the first medal today at these Athens Olympics, the medal will bear Votsi's design. It's the first time in 76 years the Olympic medals have changed and, fittingly, Olympic officials have used the return of the Games to Greece as a chance to have the medals better reflect distinctly Greek elements.

Votsi said she didn't tell anyone when she was invited to enter a competition for the medal redesign. When it was announced last November she had won - a distinction worth 20,000 Euros (about $25,000) - she went into her shop, sat down and asked her few employees for a drink of water.

"I was in shock," she said.

"I wanted to put Greek ideas on the medal," said Votsi, who has a master's of arts from Royal College in London and who also shows her work in London, Athens and New York galleries. She has also designed jewelry for Gucci and the original work on display in her corner shop shows the bold, original work of a fine artist.

Votsi said she drew 18 or 19 sketches, each time using images of the Greek goddess Nike and the Panathinaikos, the horseshoe-shaped stadium in Athens where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896.

With her training and studies, Votsi was always troubled by the depiction of Nike in the previous design. In it, Nike was seated, holding an ear of corn and a wreath. The stadium was a Roman amphitheater.

"I wanted to put Greek ideas on the medal," Votsi said.

"It had to be Greek, the front side of the medal, because the Olympics started here, because we have to think about the history," she said.

On the medal's flip side, Votsi has depicted the Olympic flame that burns from a caldron and the opening from Pindar's eighth Olympic ode.

She said after all the sketches, she eventually settled on submitting the very first one she drew. It was a winner. The only drawback is that she can never release the design or show her sketches, having turned the rights to design to the IOC.

Now Votsi's winning medal design will hang around the neck of all the winners in these Greek Olympic Games.

Quite a summer to remember.

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