The Olympics have never been uncomplicated, but coming up this week, Sotheby’s is presenting an auction dedicated to Olympic memorabilia in the midst of a storm of multiple controversies that have preceded this year’s Tokyo games. Leading the auction is a pair of ‘Prototype Logo’ Nike track spikes that were made specifically for Harry Jerome, a track and field sprinter who won a bronze medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. These shoes, due to their extreme rarity, are expected to sell for between $800,000 and $1,200,000. Also on the auction docket is a pair of Converse Fastbreak sneakers that were worn by Michael Jordan during the 1984 Olympic Trials; these are expected to go for between $80,000 and $100,000.
In recent years, sneakers have become a reliably hot commodity on the auction market, but Olympic items are imbued with a complexity and legacy that many have been recently reevaluating. It’s no surprise that Olympians represent national pride and spiritual uplift for their respective countries, but the proceedings are also fraught with problematic histories and practices that persist to this day. This year, the upcoming Tokyo Olympics have been marred by the looming threat of COVID-19; days before the proceedings are set to commence, over 70 new cases of the coronavirus have been linked to the games. Despite these ominous developments, many critics say the game’s organizers aren’t doing enough to protect athletes from the threat of illness.
It’s never entirely clear just how much the news cycle influences auction results, but Sotheby’s is also presenting iconic shoes worn by a track and field star on the heels of a turbulent news cycle surrounding Sha’Carri Richardson, an explosive young sprinter who captured America’s attention with her blistering qualifying performance in the 100-meter Olympic trials. However, shortly after Richardson’s victory, it was announced that she had tested positive for THC, earning herself a disqualification from the event.
Richardson’s dismissal from the Games sparked outrage from many who felt that such measures were excessive, highlighting the stringency of the proceedings and the unfairness of the outcome. While those deeply invested in the lore of the Games will likely be unswayed by these recent developments, Olympic track and field events have undoubtedly been on the fore of everyone’s minds recently for unflattering reasons.
New on the Block is a series that looks at the most notable or unusual items to go up for auction each week.