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Auctioneer defends sale of Jesse Owens gold medal

November 13, 2013|By David Wharton
  • Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The whereabouts of only one are known today.
Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The… (Associated Press )

Reacting to concerns from the International Olympic Committee, an Orange County auction house said it checked with Jesse Owens' family before putting his gold medal from the 1936 Berlin Olympics on the block.

Owens gave the medal to a friend, entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, whose widow has now decided to sell it.

“We reached out to the family of Jesse Owens as soon as we were first contacted about the medal,” said Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions of Laguna Niguel. “Out of unmitigated respect it was imperative to us and to our consignor that they be immediately informed of the decision."

On Wednesday, IOC President Thomas Bach told the Associated Press that the medal is "a part of world heritage" that has "an importance far beyond the sporting achievements of Jesse Owens."

The historical context is obvious: Owens won four golds in Berlin, excelling in a Games that Adolph Hitler had hoped would be a showcase for his Nazi party.

"To put this up for an auction is for me a very difficult decision [to accept]," Bach said.

The medal at auction is the only one of the four whose whereabouts is currently known. Replicas are on display at Ohio State University. Owens died in 1980.

A portion of the sale proceeds, which could reach $1 million, will go to charity. The medal could end up in a museum.

“Whether this medal is purchased by a private individual or an institution, SCP Auctions and our consignor share in the feeling that the ideal place for Jesse Owens' gold medal is on display in a museum where it can be shared with the public and perpetuate Owens' inspiring legacy,” Imler said. 

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