Collecting Olympic Medals Is Harder Than You Think

The 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games have ended and 113 new metals are forever associated with the United States. Olympic medals are symbols representing years of training that forever carry a story from the time period they were awarded. Many collectors seek to own any Olympic medal that they can find. The reality is that collecting Olympic medals is harder than you think.

The USSR was always known for Hockey and Gymnastics and a gold medal from the Cold War era brings extreme provenance to the collectible.  The 1980 U.S. Hockey “Miracle on Ice” Olympic Gold Medal Presented to Mark Pavelich was sold by Heritage Auctions on May 26, 2014. It brought a sale price of $262,900.00.

Perhaps the most famous hockey game ever played was between The United States and the USSR during the height of the cold war. The Americans were the underdogs. Mark Pavelich assisted Mike Eruzione’s game winning goal which directly led to gold for the United States. His life ended badly, and his sale was before his death.

1980 U.S. Hockey “Miracle on Ice” Olympic Gold Medal Presented to Mark Wells was also sold by Heritage Auctions on November 5, 2010 for $310,700.00. Mark Wells sold the medal to pay for expenses while fighting a long degenerative illness. James O’Brian of NBC sports exclaims that you rarely see athletes give up the symbol of their greatest achievement and usually its the exclamation point at the end of a very sad story.

Medals associated with the rivalry during the height of the cold war sell for more. Olga Korbut was the first gymnast in history to perform a back-flip on the balance beam in the 1972 Munich Olympics for the USSR Women’s gymnastics team. In contrast to many medal sales she includes a letter to the future owner which adds to the provenance and authentication. Heritage Auctions sold her gold medal from 1972 on February 25, 2017 for $66,000.00.

Olga Korbut is unique in that she is still alive in 2021 and sold her many Olympic medals in happy circumstances. Her medals have sold without controversy but instead as a top performing gymnast of the USSR. The other gold metal from 1972 is by her own achievement versus the understanding of a team effort. 1972 Munich Olympics Individual Floor Exercise Gold Medal sold by Heritage Auctions on February 25, 2017 for $52,800.00. Richard Nixon was quoted by her during her visit to the White House as saying, “He told me that my performance in Munich did more for reducing the political tension during the Cold War between our two countries than the embassies were able to do in five years.” A third gold medal and the only other Individual Gold for Olga Korbut in 1972 was stolen from a Moscow museum.

Silver medals are forever associated with second place. The two awarded to Olga Korbut were both sold in The Olga Korbut Collection by Heritage Auctions on February 25, 2017 for $26,400.00 each. A silver for the Individual Uneven Bars is the event where a world stage first saw “The Korbut Flip” which is according to the Heritage Auctions description, “a back flip from the high bar that became the first backward release move performed in international competition”. The other silver medal from the 1976 Montreal Olympics sold for the same price as the 1972 and according to Heritage Auctions would have been gold were it not for Romanian superstar Nadia Comaneci posting two perfect 10 scores on the balance beam that day.

According to the Auction giant eBay a large business of replica Olympic medals exists. The nature and struggle of Olympic achievement is the reason most medals become available for sale posthumously. Do not expect to find any medal from the 2021 Tokyo games available in the near future.

There is another issue to consider about Olympic medals in that they may not be easily identifiable. Heritage sold a silver medal from the famous 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. This was the time when Jesse Owens dominated the Olympics, but this particular silver medal sold for $7,170 in 2016 and does not even come with a record of whose medal it actually was. The description said:

1936 Berlin Summer Olympics Silver Medal. The 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics was the first games to be filmed so the entire world could enjoy. In the end, Jesse Owens dominated the highlights as he pocketed four gold medals. This silver medal (2.5″ in diameter) was won by one successful participant. The medal is affixed to a silver bezel with a chainlink fob attached on top. Light storage wear visible. Weighs eight-five grams (85g.) and measures fifty-five millimeters (55mm.) Near fine.

Whether you are an investor or a collector, just avoid the base trap of commemorative coins from late-night TV.

Collectors Dashboard evaluates high-end collectibles as an alternative asset class. The same capital that could have been invested into stocks or bonds is being used to buy high-end collectibles. Whether Olympic medals are owned by collectors or investors, these are just not very common.

This may sound like an oxymoron, but collecting medals from any Olympics may seem to be harder than getting a chance to win the medals in the first place.

Image provided by Heritage Auctions (HA.com)