Whereas at past Olympics, medal winners have been given their gongs plus a bunch of flowers, or laurel leaf garlands, at Rio they have been given strange little objects, a 3D depiction of the Rio Olympics logo.
It’s finally been explained that the item shows not only 3 figures symbolically joining hands, it also acts as a medal holder.
Michael Phelps at the 2004 Athens Olympics, with laurel wreath
There has also been speculation that the “thing”, for want of a better word, spells out the word “Rio”:
According to the designers, colour choices were led by the Brazilian environment: “Yellow symbolises the sun and our warm, vivacious and happy nature. Blue expresses the fluidity of the water that surrounds us, and our easygoing way of life. Green represents our forests and hope, a positive vision that inspires us to go even further.”
In addition, the shape of the “thing” mirrors one of the major landmarks, Sugarloaf Mountain:
According to Patrick Burgoyne at Creative Review:
London tore up the Great Sporting Event Logo Handbook. It almost willfully disregards the accepted way of these things: no overt geographical reference to the home city, no ‘welcoming, joyful’ attitude, no rounded, friendly organic shapes. It almost dares us to like it. And for many it remains an unmitigated design disaster.
Rio, on the other hand, seems to have gone too far in the other direction. If London is all bared teeth, Rio rolls over and wants us to tickle its tummy. Each organising committee requirement is present and correct: happy amorphous dancing people of the type seen in so many logos before (and, yes, as also seen in Matisse), soft edges where London is jagged and city landmark front and centre . . .