Beijing 2008

Henry Cejudo lost his Olympic gold medal in a fire; then what happened?

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Henry Cejudo will be the first U.S. Olympic gold medalist to return to top-level competition since the coronavirus pandemic hit. Cejudo, a 2008 Olympic wrestling champion, defends his UFC Bantamweight title against Dominick Cruz, also a former wrestler, at UFC 249 on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla.

For fights last year, Cejudo wore two different gold medals in front of cameras before or after victories. It’s possible that neither is his original Beijing Olympic gold medal.

Cejudo said he lost it escaping a 2017 California wild fire, when he reportedly said he jumped out of the second floor of a hotel at 4:30 a.m.

He hoped the medal would turn up, but by 10 months later had given up.

“They had scraped the hotel,” he said in an August 2018 podcast. “They said about 2,000 degrees, they say that anything will melt. Gold will melt. Metal will melt. Everything will just disintegrate, so that’s long gone. I just have to go to the United States Olympic Committee and get my replica, and that’s pretty much it. They’ll replace it, but it says replica, unfortunately.”

A U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee spokesperson said Thursday the organization did not receive a request from Cejudo for a replacement medal. An IOC spokesperson said athletes need to contact their National Olympic Committee to request replacement medals.

Replacement medals are common. The most famous was given to Muhammad Ali, who lost his 1960 Olympic boxing gold and was given a new one during halftime of the 1996 Atlanta Games men’s basketball final.

So what medals has Cejudo been wearing? Cejudo and his manager haven’t responded to messages seeking an answer. In a 2018 text, Cejudo said that one of the two medals he wears was given to him by a fan, though he did not specify which one.

One medal looks similar to a Beijing Olympic medal, down to the red ribbon. Another medal is not the 2008 Olympic design. The most obvious difference: It reads “XX Olympiad,” but those were the 1972 Munich Games. The design is much more similar to the Munich medals than the Beijing medals.

Henry Cejudo
Clockwise from top left: Henry Cejudo wearing two different medals in 2019, a 1972 Olympic gold medal and a 2008 Olympic medal. (Getty Images)

In 2012, Cejudo, then 21, became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion in history, a record since broken by Kyle Snyder. Unlike Snyder, it was truly a surprise title. Cejudo had finished 31st in his lone senior world championships appearance in 2007.

He gained instant fame for his Beijing triumph as the son of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Cejudo’s story was told in a book, “American Victory.”

Cejudo took three years away from wrestling, came back for the 2012 Olympic Trials, lost and retired. He debuted in MMA the following year. In a 10-month span in 2018 and 2019, Cejudo won the UFC Flyweight and UFC Bantamweight Championships. He became the first Olympic champion to win a UFC belt (Ronda Rousey is an Olympic bronze medalist and former UFC champion).

MORE: Kurt Angle reflects on Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Dwyane Wade: Redeem Team 2008 Olympic documentary in the works

Redeem Team
Getty Images
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Dwyane Wade said he’s executive producing a documentary on the Redeem Team, the 2008 U.S. Olympic basketball squad that took gold in Beijing.

“It’s something that we’ve been working on for the last year or so,” Wade said on the Platform Basketball podcast published last week. “For me, that was a big year, 2008. I had to kind of redeem myself, because everybody thought I was done.

“But that was an amazing time, man, and, like, that team, dog? Oh my gosh. That team was special.”

Previously, ESPN aired a five-part documentary series leading up to the 2008 Beijing Games.

The team was three years in the making.

In 2005, USA Basketball, led by new managing director Jerry Colangelo and new coach Mike Krzyzewski, laid out a long-term commitment to be a member of the 2008 Olympic team.

Some players were eager to restore U.S. pride. Americans finished sixth, third and third at 2002 Worlds, 2004 Olympics and 2006 Worlds. Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul each said they valued a gold medal over an NBA title.

Since the Dream Team in 1992, more and more NBA superstars were passing on Olympic participation, some citing a need for rest after a long NBA season. Beijing stopped that bleeding. Bryant played at his first Olympics. James, Wade and Chris Bosh hatched a friendship that led to their Miami Heat gathering.

The team ran undefeated to a gold-medal game against Spain, with a prime Pau Gasol and a 17-year-old Ricky Rubio. La Roja drew to 104-99 with 3:32 left before Bryant drilled a three and drew Rudy Fernandez‘s fifth and final foul. Spain cut it to 108-104 with 2:25 to go. Then Wade hit his fourth three-pointer of the game, and the Americans finished it off 118-107.

As Wade mentioned, that triumph was personally meaningful. After winning the 2006 NBA title, he missed 31 games the next season, including during one game being wheeled off in a chair with a dislocated shoulder. His Heat were swept out of the first round of the playoffs.

Wade underwent shoulder and knee surgeries in the 2007 offseason. In 2007-08, the Heat had the worst record in the league.

But at the Olympics, Wade led the Redeem Team in scoring. The Heat were back in the playoffs in 2008-09. James and Bosh joined for the following season, and they won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.

MORE: LeBron James’ status for Tokyo Olympics unclear

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Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin wear 2008 leotards to watch Beijing Olympic replay

Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson
Shawn Johnson's Instagram
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Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson dressed up to rewatch Beijing Olympic gymnastics finals together for the first time — in their 2008 all-around final leotards.

“I literally had to break it out of a frame,” Johnson said in an Instagram live, where she and Liukin watched NBCSN’s Olympic Games Week broadcast from separate homes on Tuesday night. “When you’re breastfeeding, putting on a leotard is brutal.”

Johnson and husband former NFL long snapper Andrew East have a 5-month-old daughter, Drew.

East joked he had to persuade Johnson to wear her red leotard from 12 years ago. A half-hour before the broadcast, Liukin posted a selfie while wearing her pink leotard from the all-around final.

“We did it. We have leotards on,” Liukin said a few minutes into the broadcast. “Can we take these off yet?”

They changed after about 10 minutes, near the end of the first rotation of the team final.

Liukin and Johnson led the U.S. to silver medals behind China in the team final in Beijing. They went one-two in the all-around final two days later and earned five more medals combined in apparatus finals the following week.

MORE: Why Liukin, Johnson went 8 years without talking

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