Gordy Crawford shares details of his collection with an Associated Press videographer at his home in Los Angeles, California.
What started with a handful of pins soon turned into a lifelong quest for Gordy Crawford.
As a special guest of the ABC network for the Olympic Winter Games Sarajevo 1984, Crawford was introduced to the world of pin trading when a group of burly men in fur coats approached him and asked to trade for the pin on his lapel. At that point, he says, he was hooked.
“By the end of the night, I was working the lobby of the hotel,” Crawford joked. “[I was] stopping an Icelandic representative to trade pins with him.”
Not long after, he acquired his first Olympic winner’s medal, bronze from the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, and since then, his collection has grown to encompass hundreds of Olympic items.
He is the only private collector in the world to assemble a complete collection of Olympic relay torches. He also owns every Olympic participation medal and nearly every winner’s medal ever awarded.
“My goal always was to try to collect basically the entire physical history of the Olympics so that when it is displayed, that collection will serve as inspiration to people that see it,” Crawford said. “Whether it’s an aspiring athlete, a future sponsor, a potential donor, hopefully it encourages them to support Team USA.”
To give more Americans the opportunity to learn about Olympic history through his priceless memorabilia, Crawford decided this year to donate his collection to the U.S. Olympic Committee. In August, the collection was delivered to USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where it will live permanently under the care of Teri Hedgpeth, the organization’s archivist.
“The hardest part was Gordy saying, ‘You’re taking my children,’” Hedgpeth said. “I had to tell him, ‘Gordy, I’m not taking your children, they’re going off to college to be on display for the whole world, where they can share their knowledge. It’s a good thing.’”
Hedgpeth runs the Crawford Family U.S. Olympic Archives, established in 2012 through a transformative gift from Gordy and his wife, Dona, to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Foundation, and housed on the second floor of the USOC’s headquarters.
At present, the only way to see the treasures within the archives is through a private tour. But in 2020, the U.S. Olympic Museum is slated to open its doors in downtown Colorado Springs, giving Team USA fans a peek at some of the objects Hedgpeth marvels at on a daily basis, including Crawford’s rarest items.
“Gordy’s collection of prize medals and Olympic torches that were used in the torch relay will be on display at the Olympic Museum,” Hedgpeth said. “He’s very excited about that, because they will be used to inspire others. Instead of 100 people getting to see them, millions throughout the years will be able to see them.”
Visitors to the museum might spot what’s been called the rarest torch in Olympic history: the Helsinki 1952 relay torch comprised of a silver chalice atop a birch wood handle, a unique material among other torches in its time. Only 22 of the torches were made, and of those 22, just three ended up in private hands.
Perhaps they’ll also appreciate the fascinating stories behind some of Crawford’s other torches, like the torch from Stockholm 1956, where the Olympic equestrian events took place as the rest of the Games unfolded halfway across the world in Melbourne due to an Australian quarantine on foreign horses.
Maybe an East German torch, created to commemorate those same Melbourne Games, will be their favorite. That year, the International Olympic Committee called on past hosts of the Games to create specialty torches to mark the occasion, and East Germany provided the lone submission.
Or the gold medal from Lake Placid 1932 might catch their eye, and rightfully so: It was one of the final medals the IOC was missing from its museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, when Crawford outbid the organization at auction for it.
Still, Crawford maintains that picking a favorite item in his collection is impossible.
“Asking me which item in my collection is my most treasured is like asking me which of my children I like the best,” Crawford said. “Every one of them has a story and every one of them has an interesting history, for me.”
At Crawford’s home in Los Angeles, as movers carefully tucked his torches and medals into custom-made boxes, Hedgpeth was struck by the lifetime’s worth of investment Crawford has put into preserving the kinds of precious artifacts she’s spent her career looking after.
Now, those 300-odd items will soon be on display for the world to see.
“It took six hours to pack up a lifetime’s worth of collecting, and I almost cried thinking of the enormity of that,” Hedgpeth said. “I’m quite honored that he entrusted us with his collection. That was something that made me feel really good.”
Crawford says he will keep collecting pins — he owns thousands of them now after he’s attended 15 Olympic Games since Sarajevo — and has ventured into collecting Olympic badges, which serve a similar function as the modern Olympic credential.
Above all, he hopes that his donated items will resonate with current and future Team USA athletes, fans, donors and enthusiasts who make the pilgrimage to Colorado Springs to see Olympic history come alive.
“I love the Olympics. It’s the greatest sporting event in the world. I’m a very patriotic soul, and I love Team USA,” Crawford said. “And I also love the Olympic Movement, the dream of Pierre de Coubertin to bring the youth of the world together, to make the world a smaller place, and hopefully a more peaceful, safer place.”