Back in the day -- way back in the day -- Olympic champions were crowned with wreaths of olive leaves following their victories. Fast-forward to the modern games, and the winners get medals for their efforts. At the first Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, top placers received silver medals since, at the time, silver was coveted more than gold. Second place competitors got copper medals.
Gold medals were first introduced in 1904 at the St. Louis Games, although it wasn't until London hosted in 1908 that the medals were awarded in the order so familiar today. Even so, the famous medal ceremony usually involved pinning on the prize, rather than plunking it around winners' necks. At the 1960 Rome Games, the medals were affixed to chains; following that, ribbons were typically the standard.