WINONA LAKE – The start of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan is only days away. For one Grace College employee, the quadrennial event will open up new opportunities.
Jeff Raymond, the former head track coach and now an assistant athletic director at Grace, is an avid collector of Olympic memorabilia. Every four years (or five years in the case of the COVID-delayed Tokyo Olympics), an entire new set of potential collectibles becomes available.
“I must admit that I get pretty excited whenever the Summer Olympics roll around,” said Raymond. “I love the event itself, but I also know that I will be on the lookout for the items I collect soon after the Games are over.”
Raymond’s collection of Olympic items began back in 1984. A college student at the time, he drove with a friend across the country from his hometown in Illinois to Los Angeles and was able to attend several events at the XXIII Olympiad. A highlight of the trip was seeing the USA men’s basketball team play; a team coached by Bobby Knight and featuring players like Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and well-known Hoosier Steve Alford. During the trip, the purchase of a few random souvenirs began a collection that eventually turned into something that he now officially calls a hobby.
He added more items when he was able to serve as a Press Steward at the Olympic Stadium for the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Raymond was in attendance at the Opening Ceremonies when Mohamed Ali lit the Olympic caldron, and then worked in the press area during the track and field events.
“It was several years until my collection had any focus, but I started getting a little more serious about it around 10 years ago,” he said.
Raymond’s collection focuses on four main areas of memorabilia: Programs, Tickets, Commemorative Coins and Olympic issues of Sports Illustrated. He has programs and tickets from most of the Modern Olympic Games since they began in 1896, and a commemorative coin from each host country since the first such coins were minted for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. His Sports Illustrated collection includes virtually every issue of Summer Olympic coverage since 1956.
“I’ve probably focused more on Olympic Programs in recent years, but I keep up with tickets, coins and Sports Illustrated issues as each Olympics happens.”
Three years ago Raymond developed his own website to display his collection. The site, www.5ringscollecting.com, features pages for the four areas of his focus, plus another page of miscellaneous items he has picked up over the years. The web site includes pictures of each item in his collection.
Raymond admits that the bulk of his acquisitions have come from searching on eBay, but he’s also found auction sites that specialize in Olympic items. He is a member of several organizations that focus on Olympic collecting, giving him the opportunity to connect with collectors from all over the world, many of whom are willing to trade or sell some of their items.
“Many of these collectors spend thousands of dollars for things like actual Olympic medals, torches used in the torch relays, and one-of-a-kind items from some of the early Olympic Games,” said Raymond. “I don’t have that kind of a budget, so have been fairly strategic in adding to my collection.”
He was able to point to a few pieces of his collection that stand out, including a track and field ticket from the 1924 Paris Olympics, made famous in the movie Chariots of Fire; a program issued for the Opening Ceremonies of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, an event attend by Adolf Hitler; and a full set of 12 daily newspapers issued specifically for the athletes in the Olympics Village at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
“All of the items tell some kind of story, especially the programs,” he said. “Some of the programs have results written in them by the people who were actually there. Many have athletes’ names listed who turned out to be great champions, which only adds to their significance.”
Raymond can talk about much of the history of the Olympics and how the Games have been affected by many world events and have often mirrored the social changes in the world at-large.
“I think the Olympics could almost be used as a backdrop to teach world history over the last century,” explained Raymond. “Things like the World Wars, the Cold War, equal rights, women’s rights, terrorism, apartheid, and many more are woven into the history of the Olympics. Whether someone is a fan or not, there are many fascinating stories and conflicts that have happened both inside and outside the actual athletic events.”
In addition to simply looking for more items to add to his collection, Raymond hopes to see some future Olympic Games in person.
“One of my bucket-list goals is to attend an Olympics in another country,” he said. “My wife and I are looking at Paris in 2024, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens in a few years. The 2028 Olympics are already set to be back in Los Angeles, so we hope to travel out there.”
When the Tokyo Olympics begin on July 23, Raymond will be spending most nights following the action on NBC or one of the affiliate networks showing Olympic events. Once the Games are over, he will begin scouring eBay or his other sources for the next additions to his collection.
“This is kind of a never ending collection,” he admitted. “There’s always something more to look for and every four years there’s a whole new set of potential collectibles.”