Here are some things that are almost always true of the modern Olympic Games:
- They’re really expensive and end up costing the host city a fortune.
- For two weeks, the Olympic Village turns into a scene from Caligula.
- The host country will always issue commemorative coins.
As the 2020(1) Summer games wind down, I thought I’d show off some of my Olympic coins:
The 1972 Munich Summer Olympics were notable for many reasons. They were the first Olympic games in Germany since the infamous 1936 Berlin Olympics, and the West German government had been eager to show how far it had come since then, using the games to promote democracy and optimism to the world. However, tragedy struck when Palestinian terrorists, aided by German neo-Nazis, broke into the Olympic Village and murdered several Israeli athletes.
The incident overshadowed what had, otherwise, been a fairly memorable Olympics, highlighted by swimmer Mark Spitz winning a then-record seven gold medals and a controversial basketball match between the USA and USSR that continues to provoke strong reactions from both sides to this day.
These two West German coins were among the first coins in my collection. My dad took a trip to Munich (not for the Olympics, but for a physics conference, so it’s similar, I guess) and brought these coins home. The government issued six different commemorative coins, all of which had high mintage figures. As such, while there are some valuable variants, most of these coins remain very affordable.
To date, the 1972 Games have been the last held on German soil. Several German cities have put in bids since then, including Berlin for the 2000 summer games and Munich for the 2018 winter games. Hamburg started the process in 2024 but ultimately pulled out. Meanwhile, Germany had the good sense to avoid bidding for the 2036 Olympics because it would have made for a very awkward 100th anniversary. Maybe 2040, then.
The 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics were also notable, albeit for less tragic reasons. The first Olympics ever held on Canadian soil, the Montreal games featured several historical moments, including gymnast Nadia Comăneci becoming the first to score a perfect 10 at the Olympics, Sugar Ray Leonard winning a gold in boxing and the athlete now known as Caitlyn Jenner winning the decathlon.
Perhaps Montreal 1976’s biggest legacy was in the financial arena. The city ended up paying a high price for its games — literally. While nearly all Olympics end up being expensive and go over budget, Montreal went so far into the red (the city budgeted C$120m and ended up spending C$1.6 billion), that it took them nearly 40 years to pay it off. The Olympic Stadium, which was nicknamed “The Big O,” even earned the pejorative moniker of “The Big Owe.” Perhaps that’s why the city hasn’t bid for any Olympics since (although there are reports that Montreal and Toronto are considering a joint-bid). And why Toronto used public-private partnerships to try and keep costs down when it hosted the 2015 Pan American Games (spoiler: they still went over budget, but it was nothing compared to Montreal).
This coin features Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse (which is appropriate, considering she’s on all Canadian coins and she actually opened the Montreal Olympics) and fencers on the reverse. This coin was one of thirty designed by the Royal Canadian Mint. With denominations of C$5 and $10, these silver pieces were supposed to help raise funds for the Olympics. Then again, considering how much the city ended up owing, they could have auctioned off King Farouk’s collection and it wouldn’t have made much of an impact.
Like the German coins, my dad got this on one of his many business trips and gave it to me when I started collecting coins. Thanks to their high mintage figures, this coin, as with all of the other silver Montreal coins, is still very affordable. Despite that, this coin was one of my first nice silver coins. As such, it’s always had a special place in my collection.
Finally, this coin commemorates the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. One of the most-watched Olympics in modern history, these games featured Canada winning its first gold medal in men’s ice hockey in 50 years and a judging scandal in figure skating so controversial, it resulted in the awarding of two gold medals in pairs and the creation of a brand new scoring system.
The Olympics also notable for jump-starting Mitt Romney’s political career. The games had been mired in scandal and mismanagement before Romney, then-CEO of Bain Capital, became head of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. Romney got a lot of credit for helping turn things around, and used his success as a springboard to higher office, first as governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007, and then as GOP nominee for President in 2012. Thanks to his Olympic accomplishments, Romney remained popular in Utah and parlayed that into a successful run for U.S. Senate in 2018.
This coin caught my eye, thanks to its exquisite design. The partially frosted finish on the obverse is especially beautiful and the image of the Utah skyline on the reverse is a nice touch. Unlike Munich or Montreal, the U.S. only authorized two commemorative coins, a gold coin and the above silver one. The Mint struck a limited number of each coin, nevertheless, the silver coin is still relatively affordable.
This coin really is quite beautiful and probably deserves more attention from collectors. When the Olympic flame finally returns to American soil for the 2028 Los Angeles games, whoever ends up designing the corresponding commemorative coin will have a lot to live up to.