At the 1896 Olympic Games, the first of the modern era which symbolically took place in Athens, the first two in each event were rewarded. The winner receives a silver medal, his runner-up a copper medal.
But at the Olympics the top two won't be left alone on the altar of glory for long. As of the 1904 Games, organized in Saint-Louis, city of Missouri in the United States, a third athlete was rewarded. “The explanation probably stems from the fact that the Americans had a lot of tournaments where players would go head-to-head until the final. To separate the third from the fourth, there was what is still called "the small final", reports Patrick Clastres, author of the book Olympics, a century of passions. The formula is kept at the 1908 Olympics in London. But first, second or third, nobody is on the podium yet ... because it does not exist. Because it was during the Los Angeles Games in 1932 that the physical podium, on which the first three athletes in an event climbed, was introduced. It is the Americans who are once again changing the rules of protocol.
In previous modern Olympics, winners received their medals, nothing more than congratulations from officials at a closing ceremony. In 1924, a small change: the Prince of Wales descended on the track at the end of the event to shake hands with the athlete André Mourion. “We are still in an amateur sport philosophy where the athlete is a sportsman who should not take glory from his reward. The medals do not yet have a financial value, because it is contrary to the idea of the sport of the time practiced by an aristocracy who did not see sport as a means of making money. We are above our own glory, ”notes Patrick Clastres.