Going for the gold, silver and bronze at an Exeter auction house

  • Olympic memorabilia is being sold through RR Auction with online bidding from January 10-17, including this gold medal from the 2016 Rio games. Courtesy—

  • Olympic memorabilia is being sold through RR Auction with online bidding from January 10-17, including this gold medal from the Grenoble 1968 Winter Olympics. Courtesy—

  • Olympic memorabilia is being sold through RR Auction with online bidding from January 10-17, including this rare unissued winner's medal from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Courtesy—

  • Olympic memorabilia is being sold through RR Auction with online bidding from January 10-17, including this complete winner's medal set presented to Rev. J. Bernard Fell, president of the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee  Courtesy—

Monitor staff
Published: 1/11/2019 5:02:59 PM

Bobby Livingston, the executive vice president at R&R Auction in Amherst, couldn’t get his words out fast enough while addressing the Olympic memorabilia being auctioned through Jan. 17.

“Sorry,” Livingston said. “I get really excited over this.”

Livingston’s sentences, speeding from his mouth like a world-class sprinter, reflected items – gold, silver and bronze medals, torches, tickets and autographs – that symbolized competition at its highest level while attaching themselves to world events of major importance.

For example, there’s a Jesse Owens autograph from the Berlin Games in 1936, when the sprinter and long jumper won four gold medals while a dismayed Adolf Hitler, hoping to showcase what he viewed as Germany’s master race, looked on from high above the track.

There’s a bronze medal from the 1968 Games in Mexico City, where Tommy Smith and John Carlos, standing on the medal podium after winning gold and bronze in the 200-meter run, raised their black-gloved fists during the national anthem to draw attention to human rights.

“I was born in 1964, so one of my first memories was the 1968 Olympics and the bowed heads and the fists in the air,” Livingston said.

There’s four tickets, none ripped, to the famed 1980 hockey game at Lake Placid, where the United States, consisting of a group of college players, each barely 20 years old, beat the mighty Soviet Union, made up of veterans who shortly before the Olympics had destroyed a team of NHL all-stars in an exhibition game. The U.S. victory remains perhaps the greatest upset in sports history.

And there’s a gold medal from the 1972 Games in Munich, Germany, where Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team as the world followed events on television.

“The Munich tragedy and the Lake Placid game certainly stood out,” Livingston said. “And it’s hard for younger people to know how hard it was for us to go against the Soviets. We didn’t talk to them and had no diplomatic relations with them. The competition between the United States and the Eastern Bloc nations was significant.”

The medals, Livingston said, come from the athletes themselves, who sell them to collectors once the shine of Olympic glory has worn off. He wasn’t aware of any that were sold by a particularly famous Olympian.

“Life goes on for a lot of these athletes,” Livingston said. “You were subsidized athletes and the medals have value 20 years later. They will sell them to buyers because there’s a vibrant market place for Olympic memorabilia.”

At press time, the highest bid, $25,000, had been made for the torch from the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble – the actual torch, Livingston said, that was used to light the Olympic cauldron after the flame had made its journey across the county. The torch was appraised at $200,000.

“That torch is rare,” Livingston said. “There were only 33 made, and it was actually used to light the final flame, so that makes it particularly important.”

The next highest bid thus far is $15,000 for a gold medal from the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, valued at $60,000; and gold medals from the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble and the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, with both bids at $10,000. The Rio medal is valued at $25,000, the Tokyo medal at $15,000.

Meanwhile, Livingston cited the helmet worn by one of the members of the Jamaican bobsled team, which competed at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary and gained national attention because of the team’s tropical homeland conditions.

The team crashed, but their effort and unique circumstances inspired a Disney movie called Cool Runnings.

“They crashed and the helmet is all scuffed up from when they hit the wall,” Livingston said. “It came from the Jamaican team’s equipment manager. This is my favorite item on sale.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)


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