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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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Bradie Tennell matures from Cinderella — keeping AC/DC — in Skate America return

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Bradie Tennell is asked to recall one memory from 2017 Skate America.

“Standing at the door for free program and looking into the arena and saying to myself, oh, it feels a bit like nationals,” she said.

Tennell returns this week to the event where she broke out last season. Before 2017 Skate America, Tennell had never competed on the top senior international level. She had finished sixth and ninth at two nationals appearances, spending a summer in a back brace in between. She was the dark horse for the three-woman Olympic team.

Then Tennell went 15 for 15 on her jumps at Skate America at the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Arena on Thanksgiving weekend. She earned a bronze medal with the highest score in any international competition by a U.S. woman in more than a year and half.

“I did my job,” Tennell said that day. “I think I have [put myself in the Olympic conversation].”

Tennell’s next three competitions were nationals (which she won) and the Olympics and world championships, where she was the top-placing American in ninth and sixth, respectively, albeit with uncharacteristic jumping errors.

She goes into this week’s Skate America — at the beginning of the Grand Prix series, rather than the end — as the clear American headliner in the marquee Winter Olympic event.

MORE: Skate America TV, stream schedule

Mirai NagasuAshley Wagner and Polina Edmunds aren’t competing this fall. Gracie Gold is coming back but hasn’t competed in nearly two years. The other active Olympian, Karen Chen, just withdrew from her first Grand Prix next month with a foot injury.

“I don’t really get nervous, per se,” Tennell said last week. “I think the only time that I am anything close to like anxious is right before my music starts. But last year I was so excited to be at my first Grand Prix, finally, after so much had happened in the past. That excitement carried over into my performances.”

Tennell’s goals this season, which she looks at daily with coach Denise Myers in suburban Chicago, include showing a grown-up look. Last season, Tennell’s teenage free skate was to “Cinderella.” This season, the 20-year-old chose “Romeo and Juliet.”

“I want this year’s Bradie to be very mature, very elegant, somebody who is almost unrecognizable from last year,” Tennell said in an interview with Skating magazine, for which she wore a black “New Kids on the Block” sleeveless T-shirt and plugged into a Sanyo Walkman for the cover photo shoot, an homage to her love of 1980s rock. 

Tennell used the Shakespearean tragedy to overtake Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia in her season debut at the Autumn Classic in Canada last month. The free-skate score ranks sixth in the world going into the Grand Prix series, trailing three Russians and two Japanese.

The challenge for Tennell and every top U.S. woman the last several years has been breaking into the top echelon of skaters from Russia and Japan.

“When she blew onto the scene, obviously, technically, she’s fantastic and so consistent [with jumps], which I think really sets her apart,” NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said. “The effort [at Autumn Classic], the choices of music, her movement, choreography, intention behind each movement is, in my opinion, dramatically improved from last year. Is it at the same level as Yevgenia or [Olympic champion] Alina Zagitova? No. So I still think this is going to be a time of transformation for her over the next few seasons. But she’s off to a really, really strong start.”

Tennell also added the triple Lutz-triple loop combination, done only by Zagitova last season among the senior women.

Myers, who has coached Tennell since age 9, insists they don’t compare scores or even talk about placements.

“I don’t give that any thought,” said Tennell, whose pre-competition focus is on the likes of AC/DC, Journey and Foreigner on her 100-plus-song playlist. “I don’t focus on other people, who they are or what they’ve done.”

Then Tennell may not be dwelling on the fact that she could become the youngest U.S. woman to win Skate America since Kimmie Meissner in 2007. Neither Zagitova nor Medvedeva is in this week’s field in Everett, Wash. Neither is world champion Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada, who is taking the season off.

The top threats are Japanese Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto, who went one-two ahead of Tennell at 2017 Skate America. Tennell’s total score from Autumn Classic (206.41) beat those from Miyahara and Sakamoto in their late-summer events.

“You can tell that [Tennell] didn’t win the national title, go to the Olympics and is relaxing, easing into the next Olympic cycle,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said. “She’s out for blood.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Gracie Gold details ‘mental health crisis,’ return to skating

Watch ‘1968’ and ‘Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos’

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NBCSN airs “1968,” the NBC Olympics documentary on the Mexico City Games narrated by Serena Williams, followed by a 15-minute excerpt of “Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos” on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.

Both full programs can also be streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

“1968,” which premiered during the PyeongChang Winter Games, tells the stories not only of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their black-gloved fists on the medal podium, but also of the intersections of sports and politics leading up to and during the Mexico City Olympics.

“Bring the Fire” focuses on Smith, Carlos and the podium gesture, featuring a conversation between NBC Sports track and field analyst Ato Boldon and Carlos.

STREAM LINK: “1968”
STREAM LINK: “Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos”

Then on Oct. 31, NBCSN premieres a two-hour special, “1968: The Legacy of the Mexico City Games,” at 8:30 p.m. ET. That show will include “1968,” along with a roundtable discussion about the legacy of the Mexico City Games.

Mike Tirico hosts a panel including Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad (the first Muslim-American woman to compete at the Olympics with a hijab), tennis player James Blake and Olympic champion diver Greg Louganis.

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MORE: John Carlos, Tommie Smith remember 1968 Olympics on 50th anniversary