At this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, 339 medals will be awarded – the highlight of the athletes’ life’s work. Winning gold doesn’t necessarily guarantee a life of luxury, however.

After winning double Olympic gold in Los Angeles in 1984 – an accomplishment he repeated four years later in Seoul – he became possibly the greatest diver in history celebrated.

But “financial problems”, as he wrote in a Vox essay, left the champion in front of the foreclosure sale of his Malibu home. In 2012 it was so bad that he turned to Ingrid O’Neil.

She runs an auction house of the same name in Corona del Mar, California, which specializes in Olympic memorabilia. A few years ago her partner from Louganis called her and explained that the diver wanted to sell some of his medals. “He wanted $ 100,000 for each medal,” she said. “I told him I didn’t think I could sell her for that amount. Today I think it would be possible. ”

Louganis managed to sell his house instead of giving up his gold, but it’s still shocking. While there are player unions for leagues like the NFL and NBA, most Olympic athletes find it harder when their competitive careers are over. Often the medals won represent one of the few fortunes that they can realize in retirement.

In 1980 Mark Wells and Mark Pavelich were part of the legendary hockey team of the USA, which the Soviet Union at the “Miracle on Ice” game in Lake Placid , NY.

Meanwhile, Wells had been drafted by the NHL Montreal Canadiens in the late 1970s, but even after Olympic gold, he didn’t make it from the farm team to the big leagues. He was traded to the Detroit Red Wings, but turned down the order, signed with the New York Rangers and then hopped around in the smaller leagues. When he retired in 1982 at the age of 25, he had never played an NHL game.

From then on, the descent from fame was great: he became a restaurant manager in his home state of Michigan. Wells was injured while unloading boxes and had to undergo an 11-hour operation – just so doctors would discover he had a rare degenerative spinal disease. Bedridden, disabled and depressed, the former center eventually had to sell its gold medal to a private collector for $ 40,000. (The collector then auctioned it off for $ 310,700 to insult the injury.) “It killed me selling the medal. . . [but] I would lose my home. I had to sell it to have an operation and to live, “Wells said in 2010.” I had no choice. “He is said to have last moved from Michigan to Florida. Sadder is still the story of his Olympic teammate Mark Pavelich, the man who supported Mike Eruzione’s winning goal against the Soviet Union.

Unlike Wells, Pavelich enjoyed a career in the NHL and played for the Rangers, the Minnesota North Stars and the San Jose Sharks.

But when his wife Kara died in 2012 falling from a balcony at their Lutsen, Minnesota home, things took a dire turn for Pavelich and he had his gold medal on one two years later Sell ​​auction. However, money could only help to a limited extent. In 2019, he was arrested for assaulting a neighbor, but found unfit to stand trial due to his mental health.

The sport that won Pavelich gold could be to blame for his demise. His family suspect that Pavelich suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the result of countless blows to the head during his career.

In March 2021, the Olympian took his own life while he was in a Lived treatment center in Minnesota. He was 63. “The market for Olympic medals is strong when they are up for sale, but it depends on a number of factors, including the event,” said John Millensted, Coins Director of & Medals at the Bonhams auction house. “But it’s not often that living athletes sell their medals. These are usually the next of kin after the original recipient dies. “

Sometimes even athletes in a high-profile sport such as basketball auction their gold medals – as was the case with former Team USA player Vin Baker (Sydney 2000 ), Walter Davis (Montreal 1976) and Jerry Lucas (Rome 1960) was the case. .

“It’s unusual for basketball players to do this, but you can see why [some] are selling them,” said Robert Raiola, director of Sports & Entertainment Group at accounting firm PKF O’Connor Davies. “The problem is, they don’t have a steady income and spend so much time working on their craft that it is almost inevitable that some will struggle when their competition days are up.”

(The Olympic and United States Paralympic Committee [USOPC] pays athletes $ 37,500 for winning gold, $ 22,500 for silver, and $ 15,000 for bronze.) Olympians occasionally throw their medals on behalf of a charitable Purpose: The US swimming champion Anthony Ervin auctioned his gold from the Sydney 2000 Games in 2004 and donated the 17,101 US dollars to the tsunami victims in India.

But, as O’Neil notes, if a living athlete sold, the reasons are usually tragic. “I remember someone who sold his silver medal in swimming. He said he trained for years to win gold and he was so disappointed with silver that he just didn’t want to look at it, ”she explained.

But even an Olympic medal doesn’t guarantee a sale. Take Tommie Smith’s 200m gold from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, where it erased the world record. As is known, Smith stood on the podium with his bronze teammate John Carlos and they raised their fists in a black power salute – one of the most iconic, politically charged moments in the sport.

Smith has tried several times to sell his gold, to raise money for his program that helps children in the city center. But the bids never reached its valuation of between $ 250,000 and $ 500,000.

The notion of Olympians selling their medals is a real concern for governing bodies. Current athletes can access a range of support services, including grants , Study grants and health insurance. These benefits do not apply to retirees.

The USOPC’s Athlete Career and Education (ACE) program is designed to prepare elite athletes for transition into a new life, including career, funding and self-promotion advice. Similarly, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is running its own athlete career program to help manage life changes.

Louganis says more help is needed. “Athletes who resign themselves to elite sport need advice on mental health and financial support,” he told The Post. “A lot of athletes could struggle with PTSD.”

The programs do not prepare athletes for what happens when – through mismanagement or never making enough money to survive – they have to sell their price.

” [The medal] has had a special place in my heart since February 1980, ”wrote ice hockey player Wells in a letter accompanying his auction. “When I recently decided to offer it. . . I’ve been sleeping at home with this medal for two weeks now. I hope you will appreciate this medal as much as I do. ”

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