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Fourth-Place Medal

Old coin is actually a rare participant's medal from the first Olympics, Canadian woman learns

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The front and back of the participant medal from the 1906 Olympics in Athens (via olympic-museum.de).

Many people receive family heirlooms and interesting historical items from relatives. In most cases, these objects are cherished for sentimental value, because they serve as pieces of heritage and connections to a family's past. For one Canadian woman, though, one of these items turned out to be an important and rare part of Olympic history.

Vicky Fitzgerald, a grandmother of four in Nova Scotia, has held onto a bronze coin from her great aunt for more than five decades. Recently, though, she found out that it dates back to the first modern Olympics held in Athens, Greece in 1896. And now she has a decision to make that could settle an important debate regarding Olympic history. From Sarah Boesveld for the National Post:

Ms. Fitzgerald was only seven years-old when she found the medal — always called a “coin” in her family — in a pair of pants that had been sent in a care package from her great aunt Lillian in Wakefield, Mass. Her parents offered to return it, but the aunt said she knew nothing about it and that Ms. Fitzgerald ought to have it — finder’s keepers. [...]

The medal bears the date of 1906, which fell between the 1904 games in St. Louis and the 1908 games in London. The hardware actually dates back to the summer of 1896, but was a leftover participants’ medal forwarded on to the 1906 games, which were never officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

The U.S.’s Olympic Committee archivist Teresa Hedgpeth told CTV that “is an oversight that needs to be corrected.” The donation of the medal would “be one step in that direction.”

“If Vicki [sic] donated the medal to us, it would become the Vicky Fitzgerald Collection in the USOC Archives,” she told CTV Atlantic’s Jayson Baxter, adding that they don’t have a similar medal in their archives.

For clarification, the 1906 Olympics, also called the Intercalated Games, were something of a compromise between IOC officials and Greek officials who wished to prove that the country could host the Olympics in perpetuity. While this event differed from the other Olympics of the era in several respects and has not been recognized by the IOC as an official Olympics, it also helped set the stage for the familiar format of the games we've come to know. For instance, the Intercalated Games featured a condensed schedule, unlike the stretched-out, months-long experiences of the 1900, 1904, and 1908 events; the first parade of nations at the Opening Ceremony; the first Olympic Village; and arguably the first Closing Ceremony. They are an important part of Olympic history, and documents such as this medal would help to establish that status.

Fitzgerald's decision has not yet been made, although Boesveld quotes her daughter Lisa suggesting that she will likely donate the medal to the USOC, which would certainly be the most historically important result. Of course, decisions regarding family heirlooms can involve emotions that complicate more academic concerns.

Whatever Fitzgerald decides, it's clear that she has made an important discovery regarding the history of the Olympics. Hopefully this bit of publicity will lead to increased education on the matter, no matter the result.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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