The prized Olympic and Paralympic medals are now under lock and key at the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels are kept under armed guard.

The next time the coveted gold, silver and bronze prizes will be seen in public is when they are draped around the necks of the winning athletes at the London 2012. They will stay in secure vaults at the Tower of London until then.

The winners of the men's and women’s 10m air pistol should be the first athletes to receive their medals.

The medals were taken down to the vaults by London 2012 chairman Lord Coe and Jan du Plessis, chairman of mining company Rio Tinto which is in charge of mining the precious metals for the medals.

Lord Co, who is a two-time Olympic 1500m gold medallist, said: “For an athlete, winning an Olympic or Paralympic medal represents the conclusion of thousands of hours of training and reaching the highest level in sport.

“The victory ceremonies then provide the moment they can truly celebrate their success. It’s great that the London 2012 medals will be kept safe and secure at the Tower of London until then.'

Rio Tinto handed over the medals for safekeeping at a special ceremony where a fanfare by the trumpeters of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Collingwood hailed their arrival.

The Tower’s famous Yeoman Warders and 150 east London children from schools which are part of London 2012’s Get Set educational network were also in attendance.

A total of 4,700 medals are to be awarded in 805 victory ceremonies that will take place in over 30 London 2012 venues.

Olympics minister Hugh Robertson noted: 'To the athletes competing to win these medals they are as precious as the Crown Jewels, so it is fitting that they should be stored for safe keeping in the same iconic location.'

Over eight tonnes of gold, silver and copper has been extracted and refined to make the medals.

The hard-fought-for medals will be priceless to the athletes who get to take them home but, despite the price of gold having soared in the recession-hit years since the 2008 Beijing Games, the sporting treasures are not made of pure gold.

The top prize is made up of 92.5 per cent silver, 1.34 per cent gold while the remainder is copper. It contains a minimum of 6g of gold. The silver medal is 92.5 per cent silver and the rest is copper.

Bronze medallists win medals that are made up of 97 per cent copper, 2.5 per cent zinc and 0.5 per cent tin.

The medals started life as ore dug up on opposite sides of the world - at Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Utah Copper Mine near Salt Lake City in the US and from its Oyu Tolgoi project in Mongolia.

The Olympic medals have been designed by artist David Watkins and the
Paralympic medals were by Lin Cheung, jewellery artist and senior lecturer in jewellery design at Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design.

The Olympic medals’ circular form is a metaphor for the world. The front of the medal always depicts the same imagery at the summer Games - the Greek Goddess of Victory, Nike, stepping out of the depiction of the Parthenon to arrive in the host city.

The front of the Paralympic medal represents spirit in motion. The image struck into the other side is an imagined close-up section of an outstretched wing of Goddess of Victory, Nike.

This is to represent forward flight, power and lightness - a natural metaphor for the spirit of the Paralympic Games.

The medals are being held in a vault that is below ground and secured with a unique barcoded seal.
It can only be opened in the presence of a London 2012 guardian who is a security-cleared official.

-Sportsmail Reporter