SCP Auctions’ annual fall sale of more than 1,000 sports memorabilia items concluded in early December and generated almost $4.5 million. One item—a Jesse Owens 1936 Olympic gold medal—not only stole the show but, with its $1.46 million price tag, accounted for almost 33 percent of the auction’s total revenue. The sale set a new record for the highest price paid for a piece of Olympic memorabilia. Although Owens won four gold medals during the 1936 Olympic Games, this is the only documented example known to still exist. It was purchased by Ron Burkle, co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who has stated that he plans to organize an educational tour to display the medal (along with William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize for literature, which he also owns).
At the 1935 Big Ten Track and Field Championships, Owens set three world records—and tied a fourth—all in less than an hour. As an encore, Owens traveled to Berlin for the 1936 Olympic Games and promptly broke or equaled nine Olympic records, while also setting three world records in the process. The people of Berlin showered him with praise, even though his domination in the track and field events ran counter to Adolf Hitler’s proclamations that the games would confirm his theory of Aryan racial superiority. But when Owens returned to the United States, he was not greeted with the fanfare that he had enjoyed in Berlin. Instead, Owens reentered a world of segregation. It took 40 years before he was properly recognized for his accomplishments.
Years after the Olympics, Owens gifted this gold medal to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who befriended the athlete in the late 1930s and helped him break into the entertainment industry as a way to make a living. The medal remained in the Robinson family’s possession up until this SCP auction.