United States Olympic fencing team silver-medalist Emily Cross brought back more than just a medal from her victorious Beijing 2008 competition. Sure, there was the expectedly odd fortune-cookie message (“You emerge victoriously from the maze you’ve been traveling in”), but she also found something a little more offbeat: a pack of Olympic condoms, “wrapped in gold foil, of course,” says Cross.
Since 1912, millions of Olympic athletes and enthusiasts have collected all manner of souvenirs—many of them unusual—as mementos of their time at the Games. Even for those who didn’t attend in person, Olympic souvenirs can offer a secondhand thrill, along with a flavor of this ancient tradition and a taste of the destination. They can also be an investment opportunity: a ticket stub from the 1980 United States versus Soviet Union ice hockey game can demand upward of $800 among traders.
Few can argue that Olympic items are hot commodities. Sales for officially licensed souvenirs for this year’s Olympic Games in Vancouver (Feb. 12–28, 2010) have already reached more than $10 million, due, in part, to the wildly popular red Olympic mittens ($10 a pair) that bear the five-ring emblem—and giant maple leaves.
While those mittens are licensed as “official,” most souvenirs are not. And for collectors of such unendorsed items, one axiom holds true: the more rare and weirder the souvenir, the more valuable it is. An inexplicably odd green Jell-O food pin from the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics that sold for $7 a mere eight years ago now can fetch as much as $250.
For most people, however, a souvenir’s worth is in its memories—and kitsch value. Certainly no one would expect the resale value of a goldfish key chain from the 2008 Beijing Olympics (complete with dead floating real goldfish) to be particularly high. Nor do moose-dropping earrings make for a good regifting present around the holiday times (or maybe they do?). In the end, the most valuable souvenirs are the ones that forever bring back the glories of the Games.
Read on to see the strangest souvenirs from Olympics past and present. And keep your eyes peeled for more odd items to emerge from future Games—Vancouver, London (Summer 2012), Sochi (Winter 2014), and Rio de Janeiro (Summer 2016). There are bound to be some wonderfully weird gems.