At this yr’s Tokyo Olympics, 339 medals can be awarded — the fruits of the athletes’ life’s work. But profitable gold doesn’t essentially assure a lifetime of luxurious.
However “monetary woes,” as he wrote in a Vox essay, left the champion dealing with foreclosures on his Malibu house. By 2012 issues have been so dire, he turned to Ingrid O’Neil.
She runs an eponymous public sale home in Corona del Mar, Calif., specializing in Olympic memorabilia. A number of years in the past, Louganis’ associate known as her, explaining that the diver needed to promote a few of his medals. “He needed $100,000 for every medal,” she mentioned. “I informed him I didn’t suppose I might promote them for that quantity. These days, although, I believe it could be attainable.”
Louganis managed to promote his home slightly than surrender his gold, nevertheless it’s nonetheless stunning. Whereas there are gamers’ unions for leagues such because the NFL and the NBA, it’s tougher for many Olympic athletes as soon as their aggressive careers are over. Typically, the medals they’ve gained symbolize one of many few property they will understand of their retirement.
Descent from glory
In 1980, Mark Wells and Mark Pavelich have been a part of the legendary USA hockey crew that defeated the Soviet Union within the “Miracle on Ice” recreation in Lake Placid, NY.
In the meantime, Wells had been drafted by the NHL Montreal Canadiens within the late Seventies, however even after Olympic gold he didn’t make it from the farm crew to the massive leagues. He was traded to the Detroit Purple Wings however refused the project, signed with the New York Rangers, then bounced across the minor leagues. When he retired in 1982 at age 25, he had by no means performed an NHL recreation.
From there, the descent from glory was nice: He grew to become a restaurant supervisor in his house state of Michigan. Wells was injured whereas unloading crates and needed to endure an 11-hour surgical procedure — just for docs to find that he had a uncommon degenerative spinal illness. Bedridden, unable to work and depressed, the previous middle lastly needed to promote his gold medal to a non-public collector for $40,000. (Including insult to harm, the collector then bought it at public sale for $310,700.)
“It killed me to promote the medal . . . [but] I used to be going to lose my house. I wanted to promote it to have surgical procedure and to stay,” Wells mentioned in 2010. “I had no alternative.”
“It killed me to promote the medal . . . [but] I used to be going to lose my house. I wanted to promote it to have surgical procedure and to stay.”
He was reportedly final recognized to have moved from Michigan to Florida. Sadder nonetheless is the story of his Olympic teammate Mark Pavelich, the person who assisted on Mike Eruzione’s profitable purpose in opposition to the Soviet Union.
Not like Wells, Pavelich did get pleasure from a profession within the NHL, playing for the Rangers, the Minnesota North Stars and the San Jose Sharks.
However when his spouse, Kara, died in a 2012 fall from a balcony at their house in Lutsen, Minn., issues took a darkish flip for Pavelich and he needed to promote his gold medal at public sale two years later. Cash might assist solely a lot, although. In 2019 he was arrested for assaulting a neighbor however discovered unfit to face trial, on account of his psychological well being.
The game that gained Pavelich gold could also be in charge for his downfall. His household suspects Pavelich was struggling continual traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the results of numerous blows to the top he had taken throughout his profession.
In March 2021, whereas residing at a therapy middle in Minnesota, the Olympian took his own life. He was 63.
“The market is powerful for Olympic medals once they come up on the market nevertheless it is determined by various elements, such because the occasion,” mentioned John Millensted, head of the Cash & Medals division at Bonhams public sale home. “That mentioned, it’s not usually you get residing athletes promoting their medals. It tends to be the subsequent of kin after the unique recipient has handed away.”
Typically, even athletes from a high-profile sport similar to basketball find yourself auctioning their gold medals — as has been the case with former Staff USA gamers Vin Baker (Sydney 2000), Walter Davis (Montreal 1976) and Jerry Lucas (Rome 1960).
“It’s uncommon for basketball gamers to do it, however you possibly can see why [some] promote them,” mentioned Robert Raiola, director of Sports activities & Leisure Group at accounting agency PKF O’Connor Davies. “The problem is, they don’t have a daily earnings they usually spend a lot time engaged on their craft that it’s virtually inevitable that some battle when their competing days come to an finish.”
(The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee [USOPC] pays athletes $37,500 for profitable gold, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze.)
Olympians do often unload their medals within the identify of charity: US swimming champion Anthony Ervin auctioned his gold, from the 2000 Sydney video games, in 2004 and donated the $17,101 to India tsunami victims.
However, as O’Neil notes, when a residing athlete does promote, the explanations are typically tragic. “I bear in mind one who bought his silver medal in swimming. He mentioned he skilled for years to win gold, and he was so dissatisfied with silver that he simply didn’t need to take a look at it anymore,” she defined.
Politically charged second
However even a medal steeped in Olympic historical past doesn’t assure a sale. Take Tommie Smith’s 200m gold from the 1968 Olympic Video games in Mexico Metropolis, the place he obliterated the world document. Famously, Smith took to the rostrum alongside his bronze-winning teammate John Carlos they usually raised their fists in a black-power salute — one of the vital iconic, politically charged moments in sports activities.
Smith has tried a number of occasions to promote his gold to boost cash for his program that helps inner-city youngsters. However bids have by no means matched his valuation of between $250,000 and $500,000.
The concept that Olympians resort to promoting their medals presents an actual drawback for the governing our bodies. Present athletes can entry a variety of assist, together with grants, tuition help and medical insurance. These advantages don’t lengthen to retirees.
The USOPC’s Athlete Profession and Training program (ACE) is designed to arrange elite athletes for transition into a brand new life, together with recommendation on careers, finance and self-promotion. Equally, the Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC) runs its personal Athlete Profession Program to assist handle life shifts.
Louganis says much more assist is important. “Counseling in psychological well being and monetary steering is required for athletes in transition out of elite sports activities,” he informed The Put up. “Many athletes may very well be coping with PTSD.”
The applications don’t put together athletes for what occurs when — by way of mismanagement or by no means having been capable of make sufficient cash to outlive — they need to promote their prize.
“[The medal] has held a particular place in my coronary heart since February of 1980,” hockey participant Wells wrote in a letter that accompanied his public sale. “Once I determined lately to supply it out . . . I’ve slept with this medal for the previous two weeks now in my house. I hope you’ll cherish this medal as I’ve.”