Olympic Medals for Sale at Auctions

ByRose Palazzolo

Sept. 27, 2000 -- 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.

It’s not likely that medals from this Olympics will be auctioned any time soon, says O’Neil. “Not from Sydney — these games are too special and it is too soon.” These millennium Games have a special meaning to most athletes and Olympic memorabilia collectors, he adds.

But a gold medal from the U.S.-boycotted Moscow Games in 1980 — which is on eBay with a starting bid of $2,500 — is generating interest. The medal, from a player on the Czechoslovakian soccer team, was on auction before for $15,000 but failed to garner bids at that steep price. “But, this time our reserve price is very low,” says the gold medalist’s representative, who like the donor asked to remain anonymous. “So, we think it will go well.”

There is, as one might expect, a certain social stigma that comes with hocking Olympic medals. Several current sellers of Olympic items did not return ABCNEWS.com’s requests for interviews, and some past sellers have taken heat for their decisions to earn a buck off the Olympic dream.

“A member of the Czech Republic kayak team who won gold in Atlanta sold his medal after the games and was chided so much that he ended up giving the money to charity,” says the man representing the Czech soccer player who is selling his gold medal from the Moscow Games. “People get angry and sentimental about the Olympics.”

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events