Why athletes at the world championships are receiving their medals early — then having them taken away

A man in a cap puts a medal around the next of a female athlete

It takes speed to win some of these medals at world championships.

Speed ​​to hand all of them out, too. A little bit of jumping ability doesn’t hurt, either.

In a new twist at track and field’s biggest event this side of the Olympics, athletes no longer have to wait to receive their prizes. The medals are waiting trackside and, once gold, silver and bronze are decided, presenters position themselves to hang them around their winners’ necks, sometimes while they’re still on the run.

One caveat: They need them back.

These “instant medals” are purely placeholders for athletes to enjoy on their celebration lap. The take-home ones, engraved with their names, get presented in a ceremony later on.

“To have that medal so fast, it’s so nice,” said British runner Laura Muir, who earned a bronze medal in the 1,500 meters.

It’s all part of the plan from Niels de Vos, the executive director of Oregon22. He remembered watching an athlete win at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and receive his medal the next day in a nearly empty stadium.

Niels de Vos, the executive director of the world championships, said he came up with the idea after seeing an athlete awarded a medal in front of an empty stadium at the 2016 Olympics.(Getty Images: Christopher Lee)

“From an athlete’s perspective, it’s like, ‘But my friends and family are here today. They haven’t got a ticket tomorrow. I don’t want to come back tomorrow for my medal and not have my family,'” de Vos explained.

“Everybody likes this.”

The process involves plenty of advanced scout work. That’s why de Vos, the longtime chief executive of UK Athletics and CEO of the 2017 world championships in London, brought over a knowledgeable track team from Britain. Just to help with the task of tracking down euphoric athletes.

It’s not as easy as it might seem. Through prep work, they know approximately where someone will end up once a race or field event concludes.

Then, they jump into action.

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Like when 190cm sprinter Fred Kerley won the 100m last weekend and took off down the curve of the track. There, waiting for him, was a much shorter presenter, Cherry Alexander. She reached high into the air to get the medal on Kerley.

The moment turned into a meme on social media.

Sometimes, the suddenness of receiving a medal takes an athlete by surprise. It did with high jump champion Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar.

“I was thinking: ‘What are they doing?'” Barshim said.

“I was like: ‘I thought we did a ceremony? No, I want a ceremony!'”

A man draped in a flag smiles at a child in his arms, who is wearing a medal around his neck
Qatar’s gold medalist Mutaz Essa Barshim holds his son while showing him the medal he won in the high jump.(Getty Images: Christian Petersen)

No worries, there’s a ceremony, too. This medal is just a bonus play. Barshim actually took his medal into the stands and placed it around his young son.

“It’s great. My family wanted to come and see it and hold it,” Barshim said.

Then, he handed it back. His permanent one wasn’t far behind.

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