World's Strangest Olympic Souvenirs
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.
The Souvenir: Live goldfish key chain.
The Story: This unauthorized memento may well be the strangest Olympic souvenir ever. Vendors across Beijing sold live goldfish (the Chinese symbol for wealth and harmony) trapped in plastic Olympic key chains. Although the sellers insisted the water was treated with chemicals to sustain the fish, animal rights activists around the globe were up in arms over the cruel commemorative item.
The Souvenir: Red mittens.
The Story: The Olympic Foundation has already sold more than a million of these red-hot mittens, with proceeds going to support athletic training for the Canadian athletes. The overwhelming success of the official winter accessories might have something to do with the arctic blast that has plagued much of North America in the months leading up to the 2010 Games.
Torino, Italy—Winter 2006
The Souvenir: Ear warmers with braids.
The Story: Nothing says athletic prowess and Italian culture like fake hair on ear warmers. Once available in blond or brunette (sorry, redheads), the braids made reference to the Alpine hairstyles in Torino’s surrounding mountains. Would real Italians (think après-ski bombshell Sophia Loren) be caught dead in such headgear? Mai!
The Souvenir: Olympic wedding dress.
The Story: Doesn’t every bride want to feel like a goddess on her wedding day? Had you been by Amerikis Square during the ’04 Summer Games, you could have snagged this ring-bedecked frock, prominently displayed in a local bridal salon. Perhaps this is the perfect gown for a Big Fat Greek Wedding?
Salt Lake City—Winter 2002
The Story: Fevered trading of pins has been a part of the Olympic experience since the Stockholm Games in 1912, but this one pays curious tribute to the jiggly dessert. It could also pay real money: only 2,002 (2002 Games, get it?) of these unusual adornments were created, making their individual auction value today between $200 and $250.
Lillehammer, Norway—Winter 1994
The Story: In 1994, record snowfalls in Norway forced the moose populations out of their natural forest habitats and into urban areas. Local artist Tore J. Haugan decided to capitalize on the problem for the Games by fashioning jewelry out of small pellets of treated moose feces. The souvenirs (which were reportedly popular with Germans) sold for about $20 a pair.
Los Angeles—Summer 1984
The Souvenir: Olympic Games telephone.
The Story: Dated aesthetics aside, this Olympic-branded telephone is an odd piece of commemorative memorabilia. The über-retro desk phone is not only hefty but measures nine inches square—a far cry from today’s go-to communication device, the pocket-friendly cell phone.
The Souvenir: Waldi.
The Story: The first official Olympic mascot, Waldi the Dachshund’s rainbow colors and nonthreatening physique aptly reflected the competition’s theme of peace (despite the tragic kidnapping and murder of the Israeli team at the ’72 Games). The upbeat dog was also a clever public relations move to separate this Germany-hosted Olympiad from the 1936 Berlin Olympics under Nazi rule.
Grenoble, France—Winter 1968
The Souvenir: Schuss.
The Story: This wildly popular unofficial mascot celebrates downhill skiers, hence his namesake (schuss is a downhill ski run, timed for speed). Though his image adorned pins and was cast in plastic, Schuss was never made into a stuffed character—the one trait separating him from all the official Olympic mascots that follow.
The Souvenir: 50 pence coin.
The Story: On the horizon for strange Olympic memorabilia: the 2012 commemorative coin designed by nine-year-old Florence Jackson from Bristol. Selected from more than 17,000 entries, the coin glorifies noodle-armed screaming pole-vaulters everywhere. The Royal Mint will put the legal tender in circulation later this year.