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Olympic collector donates gold medals, memorabilia worth millions

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The collector of the world’s most thorough cache of Olympic torches, medals and other valuable keepsakes insists he does not play favorites. They are all his babies.

Still, when pressed, Gordy Crawford brings up a gold medal from the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympics. Not long ago, a family from Norway put it up for auction. The price tag soared into six figures. There was only one other bidder.

“It was the IOC,” he said. “Fortunately for me, they had a budget and I didn’t. So, I have a 1932 gold medal.”

That gold medal, along with millions of dollars’ worth of Olympic treasures Crawford has collected over the years, now resides in the archives at the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs.

Crawford, 71, felt it was time to turn his passel over to the USOC. He spent $1.5 million to build an archive room (an entire floor, actually) that includes a 225-square-foot fireproof Special Collections area where the torches and medals will live behind glass.

Parts of the collection will eventually go on display at the U.S. Olympic Museum, now under construction in Colorado Springs and expected to open in 2020.

“I want all that history to be celebrated in a public place, hopefully to inspire future athletes to compete, and to inspire sponsors and donors to contribute to the team,” said Crawford, who, in addition to his role of collector, historian and passionate fan, serves as chairman of the USOC’s charitable arm, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation.

Poring through Crawford’s collection is like taking a trivia tour through Olympic history. Did you know:

—There are only two medals for each event at the first modern Games — Athens,1896 — a silver awarded to the winner and bronze for second place.

—The 1904 Olympics were folded into the World’s Fair in St. Louis, and there was so much action going on around the games, says USOC archivist Teri Hedgpeth, as she gingerly unwraps medals from those games, “that hardly anyone knew they were going on.”

—That led Athens to hold a 1906 Olympics, the “officialness” of which is widely debated. Were they real Olympics? Depends on who you ask. But Crawford has a medals set from them nonetheless.

—One of Crawford’s most valuable torches is from the 1952 Summer Games in Helsinki — only 21 exist, and only three of those were in private hands. Crawford waited 25 years for his chance and he paid more than $1 million for it. Another is from 1956, the year Melbourne held the Summer Games, but because of quarantine rules, did not allow horses to enter the country for the equestrian events. That competition was moved to Stockholm, and a limited number of torches were produced that read “Stockholm 1956.” All were marched into the competition area on horseback.

Crawford’s collection essentially completes an archive that is literally overflowing with Olympic memories grand and not-so-grand.

In one corner, still covered in plastic wrap, is a full-sized statue of Sam the Olympic Eagle, the official mascot of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Displayed on a bookshelf nearby is one of Michael Johnson‘s famous golden spikes from the 1996 Olympics.

Last month, the archive received a mint-condition Opening Ceremony uniform from the Mexico City Games from swimmer Kathy Thomas Young.

After bobsledder Steven Holcomb died last year, his family donated his uniforms, medals his crystal globes from World Cup action — six of which reside in the fireproof vault along with Crawford’s torches and medals.

“Shock and awe,” Hedgpeth said of her reaction to Crawford’s donation. “Awe that he allows us to do it, and it’s a phenomenal collection. It’s a dream come true.”

Crawford’s day job was at a global investment company, where he worked for a long while as a media/entertainment analyst.

He received an invitation to the Sarajevo Winter Games in 1984 as a guest of ABC. Soon after landing, he was surrounded by pin traders, including Viktor Cornell, one of the world’s most renowned pin collectors.

“He’s the guy who sold me my first Olympic medal,” Crawford said. “It was a bronze from Berlin in 1936. That started me collecting the serious stuff.”

There are a few missing pieces: A gold medal from 1904. Medals from Sochi and Vancouver.

In some ways, the newer medals are harder to come by.

Back in the days of the Eastern Bloc, an athlete from East Germany or Hungary could sell a medal and buy a house, or feed his family for a year.

These days, Olympic athletes across the globe are, in general, more financially secure, giving them less incentive to sell the recently won prizes.

Meanwhile, children and grandparents of Olympic winners from decades gone by come across old medals sitting in drawers and basements; they may feel no real connection to the medals but want them in the hands of someone who will take care of them.

Crawford fits the bill.

Soon, an insurance appraiser will come to Colorado to put a value on goods that are estimated to be worth more than $15 million in total. But Crawford and Hedgpeth each acknowledge that there isn’t really a number to put on a collection this thorough.

“It’s a combination of loving the Olympics,” Crawford says in explaining his passion for collecting, “and I’m a real patriot. My eyes still well up when they play the anthem. And I love seeing great athletes represent our country.”

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IOC group proposes Olympic ‘host’ can be multiple countries

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International Olympic Committee members will decide next month whether to tweak the definition of an Olympic host to make it clear that it does not necessarily refer to a single city but can also mean multiple cities, regions and even countries, IOC President Thomas Bach said Wednesday.

“It’s not an encouragement to spread the Games out as much as possible,” Bach said in announcing the IOC’s executive board approved the measure. “It may be preferable to have a region as a signatory or an additional signatory of the host city contract rather than just a city, and therefore, we wanted to enjoy this flexibility. This, on the other hand, does not change our vision, our request and our focus on having not only an Olympic Village, but to have an Olympic center.”

It’s one of six proposed changes by a working group chaired by Australian IOC member John Coates to examine the bid process. Another is to make the timing of Olympic host city elections more flexible. Typically, hosts are elected seven years before the Games, though two years ago an exception was made in the double awarding of the 2024 and 2028 Games to Paris and Los Angeles.

Bach repeated that the proposals are “to avoid producing too many losers as we had it in the past candidature procedures.”

The IOC previously said in 2014, in announcing Agenda 2020, that it “will allow events held outside the host city or, in exceptional cases, outside the host country, notably for reasons of geography and sustainability.”

This shift manifests in Stockholm’s 2026 Winter Olympic bid plan to have sliding sports in Sigulda, Latvia, home of the nearest existing track for bobsled, luge and skeleton, rather than building a costly new track in Sweden.

IOC members will vote to choose the 2026 Winter Games host next month. The finalists are Stockholm and a joint Italian bid of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, after five other potential candidates were dropped for various reasons.

There is precedent for events held far from the Olympic host city. In 1956, Melbourne held the Summer Games and had equestrian events in Stockholm due to quarantine laws in Australia. Similarly, equestrian at the 2008 Beijing Games was held in Hong Kong.

Soccer matches are often held in cities across the host country. Recent Winter Olympics have had mountain events in a different city or area than arena events.

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IOC board recommends AIBA suspension, boxing stays in Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee executive board recommended that AIBA has its recognition as boxing’s international federation suspended but that the sport remains on the Olympic program at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

An IOC decision on the recommendation will be made next month. The IOC created a group to organize 2020 Olympic boxing qualifying and competition if AIBA will not be allowed to run it.

“We want to ensure that the athletes can live their dream and participate in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 while drawing the necessary consequences for AIBA,” IOC president Thomas Bach said in a press release. “At the same time, we offer a pathway back to lifting the suspension, but there needs to be further fundamental change.”

The IOC said in October that boxing’s place in the Olympics was “under threat” after being introduced at the 1904 St. Louis Games and held at every Games since except Stockholm 1912.

In November, the IOC ordered an inquiry into AIBA, which has been in financial turmoil, faced claims of fixed bouts at the Rio Games and elected a president linked to organized crime.

That president, Uzbek Gafur Rakhimov, stepped aside in March to let an interim leader take charge but said he was not resigning. Rakhimov is on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list for suspected links to an organized crime group in former Soviet Union republics involved in heroin trafficking. He denies any wrongdoing.

“Serious governance issues remain, including breaches of the Olympic Charter and the IOC Code of Ethics regarding good governance and ethics, leading to serious reputational, legal and financial risks for the IOC, the Olympic Movement and its stakeholders,” the inquiry committee concluded. “AIBA has been unable to demonstrate a sustainable and fair management of refereeing and judging processes and decisions, increasing the lack of confidence that athletes can have in fair competitions.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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