A 1936 Olympic gold medal earned by Jesse Owens — a symbol of
Owens’ record-breaking performance in Berlin in defiance of German
dictator Adolf Hitler — is being offered at auction.
The medal is the only original Owens gold medal in existence, but
cannot be traced to the specific event for which it was awarded. Owens
earned four gold medals at the Games, for winning the 100-meter race,
the 200-meter race and the long jump, and as part of the 4x100-meter
The medal in the auction has reportedly been in the estate of
entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s late widow Elaine
Plaines-Robinson. Owens gave Bill Robinson the medal because he helped
Owens find work in entertainment following Owens’ Olympic exploits, as
documented in the biography Mr. Bojangles by N.R. Mitgang.
The other three medals were lost, and Owens was issued a
replacement set that was featured as part of the 1976 Freedom Train
exhibit. The replacements are now on exhibit at Owens’ alma mater,
Ohio Sate University, as part of their Jesse Owens exhibit.
David Kohler is president of SCP Auctions Inc., in Laguna Niguel,
Calif., the firm handling the sale. The sale begins Nov. 20 and ends
Dec. 7, at www.SCPAuctions.com.
“This goes beyond world history ... this belongs in a museum like
the Smithsonian Institution. And maybe the buyer will place it on
loan,” Kohler said.
Owens became a symbol of triumph in the face of dictator Adolf
Hitler’s flexing of the perceived might of the Aryan race and Nazi
Germany for propagandistic purposes.
Owens was born Sept. 19, 1913, in Oakville, Ala. He and his family
then moved to Ohio, where he found success in high school in Cleveland
and at college at OSU. Owens won a record eight NCAA individual
championships, four each in 1935 and 1936, before fulfilling his
Olympic ambitions in the summer of 1936 on the verge of a larger
After Owens won the 100-meter event, a furious Hitler stormed out
of the stadium, though some reports indicate that Hitler later
congratulated the athlete on his success.
The surviving medal is “one of the world’s most poignant symbols
of triumph,” according to SCP Auctions.
Ingrid O’Neil, of the Corona Del Mar, Calif., sports and Olympic
memorabilia firm bearing her name, said 1936 Berlin gold medals come
up at auction occasionally, but cannot usually be traced to a
recipient because, prior to 1960, recipients’ names were not engraved
on the edge as they have been since that time.
O’Neil said she has been offered 1936 gold medals purported to be
among the missing Owens medals on multiple occasions, but those pieces
She said that she knows an overseas bidder as well as a bidder
inside the United States who will be bidding on the medal being
offered by SCP Auctions.
The lot also includes letters of authenticity from experts in
Olympic souvenirs and statements of provenance from the Robinson
family, as well as other evidence related to the medal’s ownership history.
The auction house has established a minimum bid of $50,000, and
expects the medal to sell for upwards of $1 million.
Several other Olympic medals from other consignors are included in
For more information about the auction, telephone the firm toll
free at 800-350-2273 or visit its website. ■