It’s easier than ever to get an Olympic gold medal.
That is, if you have the cash.
With competitive online auction houses like eBay selling Olympic medals and memorabilia, even a couch potato can pick up a gold, silver or bronze medal from years past. Some auction bids start as low as $36 for a medal from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, though of course the final selling price could be much higher.
“There are close to 5 million items on eBay right now and increasingly, a significant amount of items are associated with sports, including Olympic medals,” says eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove. “As events conclude in the [Sydney] Olympics, the number of individuals and athletes involved in sports memorabilia on eBay become greater.”
Olympic Pins Started the Frenzy
Since audiences saw spectators vigorously trading Olympic pins at the Atlanta Games four years ago, the frenzy over Olympic memorabilia has become so intense that several online memorabilia sites have popped up. Olympic tickets and even the Olympic torch, a medal and a torch runner’s shoes from the Berlin Games are available.
Authentic medals as well as team participation medals and programs have become the hottest properties because of their rarity and their sense of history, according to Ingrid O’Neil, who has conducted auctions for the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“Everybody would like to have a medal but they are very expensive,” says O’Neil. “They usually run in the thousands at auction.”
Don’t expect to find many American medals up for grabs, though. And usually, Eastern European athletes hock their medals for cash.
“Money is a big consideration for those athletes,” O’Neil says. “A few thousand dollars to a Russian athlete is very important and a lot of money. It reflects on the conditions some athletes have to endure.”
A gold medal won by a Greco-Roman wrestler from the Iron Curtain during the 1984 Los Angeles Games sold for $8,000 at an auction O’Neil organized for the U.S. Olympic Committee about two years ago.
Tonya’s Team Sweater
One of the more notorious pieces of Olympic memorabilia O’Neil remembers going up for auction was Tonya Harding’s team sweater from the Lillehammer Games in 1994. It sold for around $850. “That was shortly after the incident,” O’Neil said, referring to the knee- clubbing of Harding’s figure-skating rival Nancy Kerrigan.
Most collectors look for symbols of the Olympic spirit such as torches, posters and programs. “A torch is really a symbol of the games and for everybody who gets one, it is a chance to have a little piece of that,” says O’Neil.
Not Just Mercenary
Not all Olympic memorabilia is sold with profit in mind. Also on eBay, former Olympians are donating their medals and giving the cash to charity.
Each day during the ongoing Sydney Olympics, athletes are donating signed memorabilia. The proceeds go to Olympic Aid, which helps refugee groups in Australia and around the world. Some of the items up for auction recently include Australian three-time gold medalist Ian Thorpe’s signed swimsuit and Equatorial Guinea athlete Eric Moussambani’s swimming goggles. Moussambani came in over a minute after gold medalist Peter van den Hoogenband in the men’s 100-meter freestyle swimming event. His effort earned him Olympic fame and glory.