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Medals have new sparkle at Olympics this winter

For the first time in history, the gold, silver and bronze of Olympic glory have been replaced by a slicker, finer, "artier" medal of fine crystal. Lalique Crystal, a Parisian company known worldwide for its production of fine collector's crystal, designed the new medals being awarded this Olympiad.

The medals are handcrafted and feature the five interlocking Olympic rings emblazoned against the satin-finished mountains of Albertville, which are engraved below the surface of the crystal. A band of gold, silver or bronze around the outside of the crystal designates the Olympic finish of the athlete.

Skier Stefan Kreiner of Austria quickly discovered one disadvantage of the new medals: They can break. Kreiner, a bronze medalist in the Nordic combined, shattered his prize when he dropped it while packing Thursday. He did receive a replacement, Austrian team officials said.

People who are not world-class athletes but are careful with glassware soon will be able to own a piece of Olympic history. Lalique is offering replicas to collectors worldwide. Fifteen hundred of the 4,000 commemorative sets (which are paperweights rather than neck medals) have been exported to the United States, including a few in the Tampa Bay area.

Traditions, a gift store and bridal registry at 2516A McMullen Booth Road in Clearwater, has a set of collector medals on display. Traditions owner Charlene Tomas is holding off on selling.

"They're so limited in production that we're taking names and numbers of people who are interested (in buying)," Tomas said. "People just aren't going to be able to get these. We'll try to order more, but we're not optimistic."

The set consists of three replica medals. The one with the official Olympic pattern is selling elsewhere for $325, Tomas said.

Tomas said she is "probably going to take sealed bids" when the sets go on sale at her store.