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Köln Marathon 2023: Medals and pure Nature? That’s possible!

Sustainability in sport – an issue that makes for great projects, but also polarises. We use this year’s Köln Marathon to take a closer look at why this is the case, how things are changing and where the journey (or the race) is going. The organisers of the event have set sustainability as their goal, and together with deinestrecke®, Organoid is involved with one of the most symbolic parts of the event: the medals. Wooden medals, to be precise. Made by Nina Witte and her team of deinestrecke®. Read the article to find out more about the sustainable alternative and how it is made.

“Your materials caught my eye right away. I see it, want to touch it directly, the feel plays a big role, then the scent. So I thought to myself, what can you do with it, how can I implement it?”

Nina Witte has a pretty cool project going with deinestrecke® – she makes sustainable medals from rapidly renewable wood. The medals were used again this year at the Köln Marathon 2023. And, because the marathon was celebrating its 25th anniversary, they got a special accessory this year: the HOPFN medium surface, delicate hop blossoms on golden paper by Organoid. Gold for the anniversary and hops to match the Kölsch theme. Medals made of wood, produced with modern technology and a lot of craftsmanship – that’s the perfect fit for a cooperation with Organoid. We found the project really exciting, so we had a chat with Nina: about the development of deinestrecke®, about her company philosophy, the production of the medals and about more sustainability in sport.

“This is design, high-tech and craftsmanship.”

Busy days lay behind deinestrecke®. The weeks before the event were packed with preparations for the marathon. 18,000 medals had to be made, in a process that involved a lot of craftsmanship as well as a high-tech laser. But even after the medals were all ready, packed in boxes, waiting for the successful runners, the work didn’t stop for Nina. At the Marathon Expo, she stood at the sustainability stand and presented the wooden medals, outlined their production and explained their value compared to conventional medals. She gave the project a face, raising awareness for the Organoid material, her medals and for the sustainability factor.

Nina is a designer, and she had set herself the goal that if she ran a marathon, she would take the leap into self-employment. In 2010 she successfully completed the Köln Marathon – the starting signal for her own company. At first, she created logos and corporate design. But her passion for running gave her a new idea: engraving running routes with names and times. That’s how deinestrecke® was born.

Over time, she expanded the concept more and more, attended various events and finally bought her own laser for larger projects. Various collaborations followed, and everything took its course over the years. In 2019, the Köln Marathon called and asked if she could also use the machine to process wood. And when she said yes, the production of medals was born, which has been steadily expanded ever since.

Sustainability was the focus of the cooperation from the very beginning. The organisers of the marathon had examined all areas of the event with this factor in mind. Sustainability is also an important value for Nina Witte, as she strives to make a difference with her work. The long transport routes and environmentally harmful materials used for conventional medals were the reason to strive for a change. The high-quality wood from sustainable forestry was selected with this thought in mind. Nina had also known about Organoid’s natural surfaces for some time, and we had an exchange with her her at Interzum 2023. For the anniversary of the marathon, she was able to use the natural HOPFN medium surface. A good partnership and a long-term cooperation was particularly important to her.

“18,000 people will now be running around with wooden medals. If every city’s marathon did that, we could really make a change. The fact that this is still so polarising makes me think that this is still an ongoing process. Natural materials are on the rise, the sustainability movement is getting stronger.”

Organoid’s materials immediately caught Nina’s eye, the designer in her thought of the possibilities with it, it excited her to try the product for her own products. But she needed a courageous partner to do so. The Köln Marathon, together with Generali, likes to break new ground, and so the cooperation with Organoid was born. Many parallels and similarities between deinestrecke® and Organoid became apparent. The production of the medals can be compared to the creation of the Organoid materials: There is a lot of attention to detail, a lot of manual work involved. The reactions to the end product can also be similar: Innovation is often met with scepticism at first, followed by enthusiasm as soon as people learn more about it. The conscious selection of materials is just as much a part of Organoid’s values as it is of deinestrecke®: high-quality, fast-growing solid alder wood, in combination with Organoid’s fast-growing raw materials, has resulted in a medal that symbolically brings sustainability and awareness into running.

Nina also has good insights into the future of more sustainable sporting events. The demand for wooden medals has increased a lot, if many organisers had more courage, changed their values, a lot would change. But for that to happen, there still needs to be a change in thinking. Both among the organisers and the runners. But symbolic changes are also taking place at other sports events.

“There is still a lot of room for improvement. The running scene and sports scene can still move a lot if it wants to.”

There is a lot of scepticism, which is why many courageous organisers like the Köln Marathon are needed, to implement sustainability even in the face of headwinds. In general, a lot is happening in the sports sector. Many organisers rethink their ways and have also started producing wooden medals. But it is a process, a change that is only gradually taking place. We are curious to see where the journey will take us.

At the end, we asked Nina what she is looking forward to most, now that the hard work is over.

“In the next few days I’m looking forward to seeing the 18,000 people with the medals, those happy faces. That’s when my designer heart opens, that’s when I know I’ve done something good with my work.”

We are happy to see the pictures of people happily holding their medals after a successful run. We are proud that we were able to make a small contribution towards sustainability in sport. And we are grateful that deinestrecke® made this possible.

Even more sustainability in the world of sports: The cooperation with deinestrecke® was not our first medal project. Further south, in the Italian Alps, wooden medals with Organoid were crafted a while ago, namely for the Maratona dles Dolomites. They were the result of a cooperation with our partner Karl Pichler and Malbo. Watch the making-of video here.