Saturday’s Sochi Olympic gold medalists receive gift from space

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One year ago today, the cold calm of the morning sky over Chelyabinsk, Russia was shattered as a 10-ton asteroid plunged into Earth's atmosphere and exploded. To commemorate the event, athletes nabbing an Olympic gold medal today in Sochi will add another, rarer prize to their collection.

A second set of medals have been minted, made from bronze and nickel and plated with gold and silver, each of which is adorned with a small piece of the meteorite. The gold medal athletes of events in speedskating, cross-country and alpine skiing, ski jumping and skeleton, will be presented with one of these meteorite medals in addition to their standard gold medal.

"We will hand out our medals to all the athletes who will win gold on that day, because both the meteorite strike and the Olympic Games are global events," said Alexei Betekhtin, the culture minister for the Chelyabinsk region, according to USA Today.

[ Related: Russian meteor blast thrust asteroid danger into spotlight 1 year ago today ]

According to, 50 of the medals were actually minted, and those awarded to victorious athletes will be presented in a separate, special ceremony. Sochi officials were still negotiating with the International Olympic Committee regarding how to distribute the metals, but according to Reuters, the IOC deemed that the gift was "too spacey" for the Olympics.

"We have said there is no point to do it during the Games. If they want to give something to the athletes after the Games they can do it," Gilbert Felli, executive director of the Olympic games, told Reuters. "But athletes get the gold medals awarded by the organizing committee and there is no extra gift from this region of Russia during the medal presentation."

Those medals not handed out to the Olympic athletes will apparently be distributed to Olympic committees, museums, and private collections.

While there were no deaths reported due to the shockwave caused by the meteorite explosion, more than 1,500 people sought medical treatment, and the damage was estimated at close to $33 million US.

Fragments of the meteorite rained down across the city and the surrounding countryside, but the bulk of it — weighing in at roughly half a ton — crashed through the ice covering nearby Lake Chebarkul. The crash site was located shortly after the event, although it was months before divers were able to locate the meteorite on the lake bottom and pull it up onto shore.

[ More Geekquinox: Weird Science Weekly: Not sure if the milk is off? Text that smell for a second opinion ]

These precious medals aren't Sochi's only link to space.

The Sochi Olympic torch flew to the International Space Station, during its relay to the games back in early November. This makes it the third space-tourist torch in Olympic history, following similar jaunts before the 1996 and 2000 games. However, this was the first torch to actually be taken out on a spacewalk. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy took the torch all the way around the outside of the ISS before returning to the station's interior.

(Photo courtesy: Reuters)

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