Jesse Owens' Olympic medal grabs record in $1.4m auction

The gold medal that African-American athlete Jesse Owens won at Hitler's 1936 Berlin games has set the record for the most valuable item of Olympic memorabilia ever sold at auction.

The medal sold to co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team Ron Burkle, who paid $1.4m. It is not known for which event the medal was awarded, as Owens won the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump events.

The previous record for Olympic memorabilia was held by the marathon winner's cup from the first modern games in 1896, which sold for $861,130 in April 2012.

The price achieved at SCP Auctions on December 8 is testament to Owens' stunning achievements, all of which were achieved against a background of racial tension, as Hitler had tried to remove Jewish and black competitors from the games.

The medals brought Jesse Owens fame, but not wealth. 'I had four gold medals, but you can't eat four gold medals,' he said.

Yet Owens' hardship continued when he returned to the United States. Having refused to compete in Sweden with the rest of his team due to his need to earn money, Owens was banned from competing and President Franklin D Roosevelt refused to meet him, with America still under the grip of segregation.

Owens responded: "Hitler didn't snub me - it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram." Hitler also sent Owens an inscribed photograph of himself.

Jesse Owens Berlin Olympics
Owens' struggle against racism continued when he returned to the US

The medal was consigned to auction from the estate of Elaine Plaines-Robinson, wife of entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who was good friends with Owens and was given the medal by the athlete.

Owens' daughter, Marlene Owens Rankin, reportedly expressed wishes for the medal to be made available for the public before her death in 1980. Ron Burkle, who also owns William Faulkner's Nobel Prize for Literature, has said he has plans for an educational tour involving both items.

Paul Fraser Collectibles has some fantastic sports memorabilia for sale.

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