One of four gold medals won by American Jesse Owens during the 1936 Olympic Games in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany is expected to fetch $1 million or more when it hits the auction block later this month.
Owens’ performance in Berlin was one of the most significant in Olympic history because Hitler was convinced the Games would showcase what he believed was the superiority of the Aryan race. Instead, the 23-year-old black American embarrassed the German dictator by dominating his athletes with decisive wins in the 100- and 200-meter dash, the long jump and as a member of the 4x100 meter relay team.
Due to the historical significance of the medal, and because the whereabouts of Owens’ other three are unknown, this one could fetch more than $1 million, according to SCP Auctions’ president David Kohler.
"We think this is a seven-figure piece," Kohler told ESPN.com. "We expect to see a good deal of international interest and could see some institutions bidding. This is so much bigger than a piece of sports memorabilia. It's a piece of history."
The online auction house, which specializes in sports rarities, will be accepting bids from November 20 through December 7.
The 55mm medal features Giuseppe Cassioli's famous "Trionfo" design, which was showcased on the Summer Olympic medals from 1928 through 1968. The obverse depicts Nike, the Greek Winged Goddess of Victory, holding a palm in her left hand and a winner’s crown in her right, with the Colosseum in the background. The reverse shows a jubilant crowd carrying a triumphant athlete.
Owens, who passed away in 1980, had given the gold medal to his good friend, entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. The medal came to the auction house via the estate of Robinson’s wife, Elaine Plaines-Robinson.
Owens’ medal could break the record for the highest price ever paid at auction for Olympic memorabilia. In April 2013, $865,000 was the winning bid for the silver cup earned by the 1896 Olympic marathon champ. The custom of awarding gold, silver and bronze medals didn't take hold until the 1904 Olympics.
Interestingly, the last Olympic gold medal made of pure gold was awarded in 1912. Starting in 1916, the gold medals were made from gilded silver (92.5% silver, plated with six grams of gold).
Owens’ 1936 gold medal weighed 71 grams. So, at today’s valuations, the precious metal content would be worth $49 in silver and $272 in gold.