Gold medal, Olympic torch among items from Calgary 88 games up for auction

A heavyweight prototype of the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics torch, which was made to resemble the Calgary Tower.  (Submitted by RR Auction  - image credit)
A heavyweight prototype of the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics torch, which was made to resemble the Calgary Tower. (Submitted by RR Auction - image credit)

Next month marks the 35th anniversary of the Winter Olympics in Calgary and this week, several items from the 1988 games are up for auction, including a gold medal won by a legendary Soviet defenceman.

Sergei Starikov, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1989, wore the gold medal around his neck after the Soviet Union beat Finland at the Saddledome that year.

Hockey fans in Calgary can bid on the piece of Olympic history until Thursday, as long as they have several thousands of dollars to spare.

"This one is pretty historic," said Bobby Eaton, the COO of Boston-based RR Auction, the company hosting the collection that features roughly 400 Olympic-related items.

"You usually don't see a gold," he said.

Submitted by RR Auction
Submitted by RR Auction

Starikov's entire Olympic medal collection is up for sale, including his gold from Sarajevo and his silver from Lake Placid, N.Y. where he played in the iconic "Miracle on Ice" match against the United States.

What does an ice hockey gold medal fetch? According to Eaton, the Calgary medal is estimated to be worth $18,000 US. As of Tuesday evening, the current bid was around $6,000 US.

Other items up for auction related to the Calgary games include an Olympic torch lit in the massive, Trans-Canada lighting relay, a prototype torch, a Calgary 88 session badge, and two Smithbilt cowboy hats, which the city gave to foreign dignitaries.

The lit torch designed to look like the Calgary Tower, as well as the cowboy hats, were from the collection of James Worrall, the first Canadian appointed to the International Olympic Committee executive board.

The torch comes with a flashy Sun Ice torchbearer relay suit and an official torch bag. The estimated cost of the total package is around $20,000 US, Eaton said. As of Tuesday, the bidding on the package was around $2,500 US.

Putting Calgary on the map 

Dale Oviatt, the senior manager of communications for WinSport, the organization that inherited a number of the 1988 Olympic facilities, said seeing these items for auction brings back memories.

"The 88 Olympics put Calgary on the world map," he said. "The excitement around that time of year was so intense."

Oviatt was a spectator at those games, attending hockey matches and ski jumping events. He described the atmosphere as a Calgary Stampede in the middle of winter.

"There wasn't a person in the city that wasn't excited about being involved with the games," he said.

Glen Olsen/Winnipeg Free Press/The Canadian Press
Glen Olsen/Winnipeg Free Press/The Canadian Press

Now, as the 35th anniversary of those games approaches in February, Oviatt says that many young Calgarians don't have a deep connection to the games.

He says that every so often families looking to downsize will contact him over boxes containing Olympic volunteer uniforms, passes or related newspaper clippings. Often they belonged to relatives who had died.

Yet, Oviatt says the legacy of the 88 games is still serving the city.

"We have the World Cup halfpipe event happening this weekend," he said. "Halfpipe sports were not an event in the 1988 Olympics, but if it wasn't for those Olympic Games, we wouldn't have the venue, the ski hill … to operate that kind of event."

Something for everyone 

One of the rarest items up for auction this week is a bronze medal from the first Olympics, the 1896 games in Athens. The value on that medal is estimated to between $60,000 and $80,000, Eaton said.

But not everything in the auction is worth thousands of dollars. Bids on the cowboy hats, for instance, are currently around $200.

Submitted by RR Auction
Submitted by RR Auction

Those interested in the auction can bid on items at RRAuction.com. According to Eaton, it only takes a few minutes to register.

RR Auction hosts two auctions each year that include Olympic memorabilia, with anywhere from 50 to 300 pieces, many of which are various Olympic medals.

"They are more common than you'd expect, but some years are more rare than others," Eaton said.

For Oviatt, what makes Olympic memorabilia valuable are the questions they raise.

"It's always interesting when you have an actual medal from an athlete," he said. "It makes you wonder: What's the story behind it?"