Winners of the first FINA 4x100 mixed medley relay- Great Britain
Winners of the first FINA 4×100 mixed medley relay- Great Britain

In the history of the Olympics, both Summer and Winter versions, athletes who have compiled the highest medal hauls over their Olympic careers tend to be gymnasts and swimmers. In fact, of the top 20 greatest career medal recipients, seven are swimmers, including the all-time record holder, Michael Phelps, and his 28 total medals.

It just got a little easier for swimmers to add even more medals.

On June 9, 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the addition of another 15 events for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, including the men’s 800-meter freestyle, the women’s 1500-meter freestyle, and the intriguing 4×100 mixed medley relay, in which 2 men and 2 women form a single team and swim the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle in succession.

Phelps reacted strongly when he heard the news, stating that the additional swimming events would “(take) away from the sport,” according to this NBC Sports article.

What else are we going to add? Are we going to do, like, 75m frees? How many other events are we going to add? When you add something like an 800m for men and a 1500m for women, and you’re adding mixed relays and 50s of strokes. I don’t want to say it, but it seems like there’s too much going on. It seems like, so then we’re going to grow the team by a handful of other people? I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s what swimming has been through all of this time, and hopefully we don’t have it for too long, but it’s not in my power. I can’t really do anything. I’ll just sit and watch.

It’s a bit of a ramble from Phelps, but it’s clear he’s unhappy. One could speculate that the IOC made it easier for some young swimmer to have more chances to earn medals, and perhaps one day, overtake Phelps’ 28 medals.

On the other hand, British gold medalist in the 100-meter breaststroke, Adam Peaty, expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that the IOC didn’t add even more swimming events as he thought that people wanted to see more sprints, for example, 50-meter races in the breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly. Perhaps more accurately, Peaty believes that the emphasis should have been on speed over distance, as he said in this BBC article.

Sprints engage people more than distance events. I don’t like that there’s another distance event and I don’t think that’s what’s needed. I’m a bit disappointed. Maybe they could have both just done a 1500m and then done away with the 800m. You can’t please everyone and I know I’m a sprinter but they’re the races I always remember growing up watching the Olympics.

pick-up basketball

I was like every other boy in my neighborhood of Briarwood. We’d take every opportunity on the weekends and the summer to play outside: touch football on the street, whiffle ball in front of the house, handball against any school wall, stickball in the Molloy High School parking lot, and half-court basketball at Hoover Park.

Playing basketball is easy – all you need is a ball and a public park. Kids all over America, and now all over the world, are building their ball handling and shooting chops in half-court pick-up games. Going to high school not far from the famed West Fourth Street Courts in Manhattan, I’d stop and watch some pretty amazing athletes play some intense games in the classic link-fenced city courts, the kind of environment where so many NBA stars got their starts.

And now, not only can kids on these public courts dream of going to the NBA, they can now dream of going to half-court fame and glory in the Olympics. In the middle of the 2017 NBA Championships, on June 9, 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that basketball would have a new event debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – three-on-three basketball.

“It’s great for basketball,” said Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, LeBron James. “For us to be able to add another category to the Olympics, another basketball category, I think it’s pretty great.

James went on to say that he wasn’t very good at 3-on-3, and that he avoids 1-on-1 matchups in team practices, so he didn’t see himself going to Tokyo on a team of 3. But that hasn’t stopped the world of imagining what it would be like to have the top NBA stars playing on these squads. SB Nation took the liberty of compiling each NBA’s team’s likeliest 3-team. Here’s their line up for six of the top NBA teams in 2017:

NBA 3 on 3 teams

LA2024 city hall
City Hall can host the marathon

LA2024’s campaign is heating up as the committee driving LA’s candidate city bid to host the 2024 Olympics has released virtual renderings of what the sports venues will look like.

LA2024 Stubhub Center rendering for equestrian
LA2024 Stubhub Center rendering for equestrian events

Much of the strength of the LA and Paris bids are the use of existing sports facilities. Los Angeles has a rich sports culture, both at the university and professional levels, that there is little need for extensive budget for the building of new facilities.

LA 2024 Aquatics
Aquatic events on USC campus

For example, UCLA will host not only the Olympic and Paralympic Village, but all judo and wrestling. USC will be the home to swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and badminton. And of course existing structures like the LA Convention Center (fencing, boxing, taekwondo, table tennis), the Staples Center (basketball), as well as the LA Coliseum (athletics) can be fully employed for the Olympics.

La2024 convention center
The LA Convention Center can host fencing, boxing table tennis and taekwando

The International Olympic Committee’s Evaluation Commission will be in Los Angeles from May 10-12 to hear the bidding committee’s final presentation. Then they will be off for Paris from May 14-16 to hear the final presentation on the Paris 2024 bid. The IOC will then vote on which city will host the 2024 Olympics on September 13, in Lima, Peru.

Watch this video for the full view of the LA2024 sports centers and facilities.

Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics
Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics

For the hottest game on ice, the players and owners have entered into a cold war of sorts. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently told the press that no meetings have been arranged with the International Olympic Committee regarding the possibility of NHL players competing in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in early 2018.

The NHL schedule and the Winter Olympics schedule overlap every four years. In order to convince he NHL to release its players in the middle of the NHL hockey season, the IOC agreed to pay for the insurance, travel and accommodation of these professional hockey players. The insurance is a key component because it protects the NHL teams against an injury to a star player who could impact team success and/or team revenue for years to come. For the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the IOC sent some USD7 million to the NHL, something the IOC does not do for other sports leagues. The IOC has done so for the past five Winter Olympics since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, but this year the IOC announced they would not pay the NHL for players to come.

Bettman stated that without IOC financial support, it’s unlikely the owners would support. “We don’t make money going [to the Olympics]. I can’t imagine the NHL owners are going to pay for the privilege of shutting down for 17 days. I just don’t see that.”

However, the star players in the NHL view the Winter Olympics as a matter of prestige and pride. The very best players like Canadian Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Russian Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals have said they intend to go, Ovechkin going as far to say he would go without the NHL’s permission. And as mentioned in this Ottawa Citizen article, the owners will listen to their stars.

When Alex Ovechkin said he was going to the Olympics, with or without the NHL’s blessing, it didn’t take long for Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis to stand behind his star. And why wouldn’t he? Ovechkin is the face of the team. He not only helps the team win games, he puts fans in seats.

Major League Baseball stands in contrast to the NHL. Currently, the World Baseball Classic, an international baseball championship series taking place in March, 2017, has the full commitment and support of MLB. And while the major league players from big-time baseball nations of Japan, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Korea are heavily involved in the World Baseball Classic, Team USA is bereft of its stars. In contrast to the NHL players, the Americans have little to no interest in participating.

Now, the World Baseball Classic is not the same at the Olympics. And when baseball returns to the Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will likely want to ensure his league’s best players are at the Summer Games. Growing the international market for baseball will be a big priority for Manfred. But he has yet to gain consensus with team owners on how to make it work for the MLB when the Olympics will take place in the middle of the 2020 MLB season. Injuries and lost revenue to lost games will certainly be in the minds of the owners.

Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner
Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner

According to this Sports Illustrated article, there are two possible options to make it work: allow the season to continue without interruption, and just free up the players selected to their respective national teams, or shut down the MLB season for, say two-and-a-half weeks, like the NHL has done in the past.

The NBA, on the other, other hand, has had the distinct advantage of holding a primarily Fall-Winter-Spring season, while the Olympics tend to fall in the summer, the basketball off season. Traditionally, the NBA has promoted its brand and players globally, and have been a model for building a global business. Their commitment to the Olympics is thus considerable. The issue has been ensuring that the richest and greatest athletes in the world stay motivated enough to train and risk injury during their time off.

The US men’s team took bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and were dubbed “The Nightmare Team”. It didn’t bode well when the superstars of the league, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett begged off of the team, and Ray Allen and Jason Kidd were out with injuries.

After the team’s embarrassing finish in Athens, Team USA appointed Jerry Colangelo to take charge of team selection. His job was to persuade the NBA’s best American players that it was their duty to restore pride and glory to men’s basketball in the international arena.

Colangelo convinced such stars as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade not only to join Team USA for the 2008 Seoul Olympics, he got them to commit to playing together for three years leading up to the Olympics. Under Colangelo’s leadership and the coaching of Mike Krzyzewski, Team USA dominated at the 2008 Seoul Olympics to easily win gold. They’ve done so ever since.

Summary:

  • NHL: League and Owners not committed; Players committed
  • MLB: League committed; Owners not yet committed; American players not committed, but world players committed
  • NBA: League committed; Owners committed; Players committed
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Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe City, Japan. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” – Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter

Principle 6 was challenged by Russia in the lead up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics when:

  • a Russian judge would not allow construction of a Pride House, which is where athletes who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) can gather during an Olympic Games, and
  • a law was passed that banned “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors, which was perceived to outlaw any reference to LGBT.

The associated homophobic violence in Russia and the uproar in media outside of Russia left the IOC wondering what they could do to give teeth to Principle 6. But it’s likely they only really started considering the seriousness of the situation when a group of over 50 current and former Olympians banded together to start a campaign asking the Russian government to reconsider the law on “gay propaganda”. They called this campaign, the Principle 6 Campaign.

The IOC got the message. According to The Guardian, the IOC established a new clause to the host city contract. So when a city bids for an Olympic Games, their bid mush show they are complying with this clause: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.”

Perhaps unfortunately, the host city contract did not have these “teeth” in 2007 when Sochi won the bid for 2014. But any city wanting to bid in the future have to show their country is not blatantly exercising discrimination.

Japan is not a country that blatantly discriminates. While it is considered one of the most meritocratic countries in the world, there are times when non-Japanese have various cultural or legal issues, or females wonder whether they are getting treated fairly. But it is subtle and discussion today is more common and open on the issues and how to improve them.

Which brings us to golf.

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Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, has asked the proposed course for the golf tournament at the 2020 Olympics, Kasumigaseki Country Club, to admit women members Credit: Aflo/REX/Shutterstock

For the first time in history, Tokyo has a female governor, Yuriko Koike. In addition to taking a microscope to the ballooning Tokyo2020 budget, she poked the ribs of an organization that does not allow women to enjoy full membership – the Kasumigaseki Country Club. Under ordinary circumstances, it is unlikely that a governor would want to take on a private association over female membership as a top ten priority. But Japan will be hosting the 2020 Summer Games, and Kasumigaeki CC is slated to be the venue for golf. Suddenly, the country club became an easy target.

Why?

Because the governor can exercise what is known in Japan as “gai-atsu”, or the tactic of

pat-hickey
Pat Hickey

I suppose selling tea wasn’t quite doing it for Minoru Ikeda. This enterprising tea dealer from Utsunomiya, Tochigi was indicted during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for scalping tickets, according to The Japan Times of October 20, 1964.

Ikeda bought the tickets fair and square, 60 through his local Japan Travel Bureau office and through direct mail orders to the Tokyo Olympic Committee. Apparently he pulled in a cool JPY150,000 in profit, re-selling four third -lass track and field tickets for the outrageous price of JPY10,000 each. I actually have a third-class ticket from those Games, and it states the price is JPY1,000. According to the article, Ikeda sold 52 more tickets for another JPY200,000.

But that pales in comparison to the reports that came out of the 2016 Rio Olympics when a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, Pat Hickey, was arrested on August 17, 2016, for ticket touting, or scalping.

Hickey was imprisoned for 11 days in Bangu Prison, and was released, primarily due to the fact that he was a 71-year-old in poor health, and his passport had been taken away. After about 4 months in Brazil, Hickey was allowed to return to Ireland, no longer the head of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), a position he had resigned soon after his arrest.

scalping
The Japan Times, October 20, 1964.

Hickey had been the head of the OCI since 1989 and had apparently ruled Irish Olympics with a firm hand. And as an executive board member of the IOC, Hickey received such benefits as a USD900 per diem during Olympic Games. But that apparently wasn’t enough. Since Hickey apparently he collaborated with the organizations that was responsible for the selling of Olympic tickets in Ireland, he and Kevin Mallon (another person arrested in Rio), had access to the most valuable tickets at the Rio Games, the opening and closing ceremonies.

According to The Guardian, police seized over a thousand such tickets, which would could be sold at exorbitant prices. The article claims that Mallon’s company, THG, was looking to pull in a profit of USD10 million. That is definitely an improvement on JPY200,000, even accounting for inflation!

Hickey, who asserts his innocence in the charges, is awaiting the start of court deliberations on his case in Rio. If found guilty he could face prison time.

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Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and IOC President Thomas Bach seal the deal

China is sports mad. And when one of the biggest emerging markets in the world wants something, the eye may pop. For example, soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was offered over USD100 million per year to play for a Chinese Super League Club, with an additional USD300 million to go to Real Madrid for the transfer.

While Ronaldo turned the Chinese down, others are turning their thumbs up.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, in mid-January, 2017, the International Olympic Committee announced the addition of Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, to the IOC’s exclusive group of global sponsors known as TOP Sponsors. Alibaba is one of the biggest e-commerce businesses in the world, and joins such firms as Coca Cola, Toyota, Visa, McDonalds, Bridgestone, Samsung and GE granted rights to the marketing of the famed five rings.

This deal is huge: USD 800 million over 12 years or 6 summer and winter Olympiads. In addition to payment, Alibaba will also build a global shopping platform for the IOC, as well an Olympic-related digital TV channel in China, which will help build the IOC’s reach within this highly valued market. Considering that the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing, Alibaba becomes a significantly powerful and possibly pathbreaking partner for the IOC in building stronger relations within Chinese business and government circles.

As Alibaba founder and CEO said, “We are proud to support Olympic Agenda 2020, using our innovations and technologies to help evolve the Olympic Games for the digital era.”

According to sports marketing consultant, Michael Payne, who was intimately involved in the early days of the IOC’s TOP program, “This is so much more than about marketing or sponsorship. It is potentially the single biggest, groundbreaking partnership the IOC has done to date.”

A pedestrian walks past Alibaba.com adve

Alibaba is a powerhouse in China, particularly with its e-commerce businesses T-Mall and Taobao. But these services are not as well-known as sites like Amazon, and those who know them may be wary of their reputation for selling counterfeit goods. Thus major brands and buyers…beware.

According to the IOC, building the e-commerce platform for the IOC will give Alibaba greater incentive to figure out how to uncover the counterfeit goods from flooding the market.

Additionally, its growing cloud services business is weak overseas. Jack Ma wants to increase global revenue ex-China to fifty percent. Cloud services is already an area where Alibaba is gaining global traction. Being a TOP sponsor will give Alibaba overseas exposure of the likes they would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, particularly in their home region of Asia, where the next three Olympics will be held (PyeongChang, Tokyo and Beijing).

According to Bloomberg, Alibaba had to fight for this sponsorship. IOC TOP sponsors are given exclusive rights to market their products and services within their industry. Alibaba is the official “Cloud Services” and “E-Commerce Platform Services” and it is assumed that big cloud service providers (Amazon? Microsoft) were also in the mix.

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The Republic of China Olympic Team competing at the 1960 Olympics “Under Protest”

On December 2, 2016, Donald Trump took a phone call from the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. She was simply offering her congratulations to the American president-elect. And yet, this simple phone call established the possibility of a radically different Sino-American diplomatic relationship.

Wang Dong, an associate professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University, was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “this is a wake-up call for Beijing — we should buckle up for a pretty rocky six months or year in the China-U.S. relationship. There was a sort of delusion based on overly optimistic ideas about Trump. That should stop.”

In fact, it was 38 years ago today (December 15) when then President Jimmy Carter officially recognized The People’s Republic of China, and Beijing as the sole government of China. A year later, the US cut off ties with Taiwan.

But in the 1950s and the 1960s, neither the People’s Republic of China (PRC), nor The Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan were officially recognized by the United States. The International Olympic Committee, however, recognized both. The IOC invited the PRC and the ROC to the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. The ROC withdrew in protest of PRC’s Olympic debut. In subsequent Olympics, the ROC decided to participate, so it was the PRC’s turn to boycott the Games, which they did until 1980. In 1952, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Avery Brundage, was viewed by the PRC as a puppet of the United States.

Brundage was the president of the IOC in the 1950s and 1960s, and had to deal first hand with the China issue. As the head of the Olympic Movement, and thus symbolic proselytizer of the Olympic Charter, Brundage wanted to “contribute to building a peaceful and better world” by ensuring as many different nations participate in friendly sports competition. In his mind, he needed a logical way to bring both the PRC and the ROC to the Games.

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Avery Brundage

To that end, he got the IOC to vote and approve a decision that would force the ROC Olympic Committee to change their name from The Republic of China to either Taiwan or Formosa, which is another name for the island of Taiwan. According to David Maraniss and his seminal book, Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, Brundage’s argument was that the smaller ROC was in effect not able to represent the vast majority of China.

Brundage and the Marquess of Exeter, the strongest Western proponent of the name change within the IOC, said it was a practical decision arrived at free from ideological pressure and without political overtones. The political act came from those who insisted on calling it China when it was not China, they argued. “We cannot recognize a Chinese committee in Taiwan any more than we can recognize an Italian committee in Sicily or a Canadian committee in Newfoundland,” Brundage said.

As Brundage quickly found out, the United States government was not keen on the IOC interfering in international diplomacy, and viewed Brundage, to his surprise, as a communist sympathizer. As Maraniss wrote, “the U. S. government, which recognized Chiang’s Nationalist China but not Mao’s mainland government, viewed this as a major symbolic victory for the communist bloc, and thought Brundage had been naïve and manipulated by the Soviets, who had initiated the proposal.”

Brundage was a puzzled man. He believed himself to be a staunch anti-communist. And yet he found his name bandied about in the press as a communist sympathizer, with calls for his resignation from the IOC. But Brundage remained in role. The ROC competed as Formosa at the 1960 Olympics, and Taiwan at the 1964 Olympics.

In 1979, after the United States officially recognized the PRC, the IOC recognized the Chinese Olympic Committee from the PRC, and passed a resolution that the ROC team from Taiwan be designated Chinese Taipei at subsequent Olympics.

So you can understand why Taiwan hasn’t felt all that respected in the latter half of the 20th century. And this has continued despite the fact that Taiwan emerged as one of the great Asian economic stories in the past 30 years, and is currently the 22nd largest economy according to the IMF.

So the phone call that was accepted by President-elect Donald Trump was not just a simple courtesy call. For the tiny island nation of Taiwan, aka The Republic of China, it was a gesture of respect and recognition.

You can bet, though, this political football game is far from over.

muay-thai-towards-olympics

Will we be getting a kick out of Muay Thai at a future Olympic Games? Will cheers be coming from the stage as well as the stands in an Olympics cheerleading competition some day?

Both are possible, now that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has officially bestowed “provisional status” on The International Cheer Union and the International Federation of Muay Thai as international sports federations. This recognition means access to a USD25,000 grant every year for the next three years, as well as the right to apply for inclusion in the Olympics any time within that three years.

What is an Olympic sport? It appears that, at its simplest, it’s a three step process:

  • Form an international federation that is recognized by an organization called SportsAccord;
  • Apply for and gain provisional status from the IOC;
  • Apply for and gain approval from the IOC for inclusion at a future Games.

According to this article, Muay Thai applied for recognition to SportAccord in 2006. SportAccord is an uber organization for all sports federations or sports-related associations, whether they are involved in the Olympics or not. SportAccord assists sports federations in promoting their sports, as well as providing the sports organizations with advice and guidance on anti-doping and social responsibility. Once SportAccord recognizes a sport for five years, it can proceed to the next step of applying for provisional status to the IOC.

muay-thai-preparing

It’s unclear why the Muay Thai application to the IOC, which was submitted some time in 2015, took so long to get provisional status. My guess is that the given sports federation has to respond to a long list of questions regarding rules and regulations, safety measures, prevalence of doping, for example. According to this article, Muay Thai may have been given great insight when wrestling was suddenly dropped as an Olympic event because of the vagueness of their rules, and the length of the matches. This is how the Bangkok Post saw the situation in 2013:

Another obstacle is that the IOC has made it clear that all new sports seeking Olympic admission must make the necessary changes to make their sport “more viewer-friendly”. By reducing the rounds, wrestling has become more attractive, and Muay Thai needs to address the first and last rounds for its five-round bout that are often extremely slow and irrelevant. The two-minute rest periods between each round are too long and boring for many fans but appreciated by the gamblers.

To improve its chances of becoming an Olympic sport, Muay Thai has to revise the scoring system to reward the fighters who show effective attack as well as eliminating prolonged grappling. Muay Thai bosses must have an understanding that all sports must evolve and that includes allowing more women to enter its upper echelons of administration and encouraging more women to compete in Muay Thai.

I lived in Thailand for 11 years. I’d love to see a Thai sport in the Olympics!

participation-medal-1

She was a teenager marching into the National Olympic Stadium during the pomp and circumstance of the Opening Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And she was in awe. This athlete, who wishes to stay anonymous, was from a country that was participating in the Olympics for the first time. She held no aspirations of taking home a medal, and at times, she felt overwhelmed.

But when she saw the following words on the stadium screen, she felt they were meant for her.

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part. Just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.

The founder of the modern Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, had an idealistic view of the Games, that people and nations were not gathering to win, but to do their best. In fact, from the very first Modern Games in Athens in 1896, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) requires that each hosting organizing committee provide Participation Medals to all athletes attending the Olympics.

I have one, the participation medal from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Designed by Taro Okamoto and Kazumitsu Tanaka, the medal was manufactured from copper, with an image of three runners and a swimmer on one side, with the five Olympic rings and the words “XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964” in both English and Japanese on the flip side. Only about 5,600 of these medals were created, and as mandated by the IOC, the medal’s dies and molds are returned to the IOC. So in theory, I have one of a limited collection.

participation-medal-2

To be honest, most Olympians are likely not satisfied with going home with just a participation medal. But high jumper, John Thomas, would have been. At both the 1960 Rome Olympics and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, he was expected by the press and perhaps the USOC to win gold. But he won bronze in Rome and silver in Tokyo, results that should be a matter of pride and joy for Thomas. But as he explained to the AP in 1964, “they have no use for losers. They don’t give credit to a man for trying.”

Over 5,100 athletes attended the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and over 500 medals were distributed to people who were in first, second or third. In other words, some 90% of all athletes, or about 4,500 Olympians went home without a gold, silver or bronze medal. But they did take home a Participation Medal. And because of that, someone in Bulgaria thought it was OK to sell it to some guy in Tokyo.