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Each medal at Vancouver Games to have unique design

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Medals awarded at next year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver will feature Canadian aboriginal art, and for the first time in Games history, every single medal will have a unique design.

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Designs for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games’ medals were unveiled on Thursday in a ceremony at Vancouver’s athletes village that was replete with drummers from the local native Indian communities that will help to host the event.

Every gold, silver and bronze medal to be awarded at the Games, which start on February 12, will feature sections of two larger works of contemporary aboriginal art. Their surfaces will be undulating rather than flat, another first for the Games, according to the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

“No two medals are alike. Because the story of each athlete is completely unique, so we felt it was right that each athlete take home a different medal,” said Omer Arbel, a Vancouver artist who co-designed the medals.

“But all the medals are connected, and together they make a larger whole,” Arbel said.

The two larger artworks depict the orca whale and the raven, animals that play an important symbolic role in the cultures of native Indians on Canada’s Pacific Coast, where the Games will be held.

Using them is a way to help teach athletes and international spectators about local aboriginal culture, said Corrine Hunt, Arbel’s partner on the design team.

“We have our stories to tell, and the stories are told with the raven and the whale,” Hunt said.

There will be 615 medals produced for the Olympic Games and 399 for the Paralympic Games.

The medals, which were produced by the Royal Canadian Mint and Vancouver-based miner Teck Resources, will weigh between 500 and 576 grams, making them among the heaviest ever to be awarded at an Olympics.

Olympic medalists who attended Thursday’s event said that being able to picture the medals in their minds can serve as an important motivator for athletes.

“I truly think that the unveiling fuels the athletes,” said Jill Bakken, a U.S. bobsledder who won a gold medal at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The medal design unveiling is among the last major announcements scheduled by Vancouver organizers as they scramble to complete final preparations for the Games.

Reporting by Allan Dowd, editing by Peter Galloway