Given his temporary absence from the Video games and nonetheless grieving upon his return, Samaranch solely introduced one gold medal all through all the extravaganza, to Australia’s under-49kg taekwondo champion Lauren Burns.
Burns was simply one in all three feminine particular person gold medallists the host nation produced in 2000, the others being Cathy Freeman and Susie O’Neill.
However Burns’ gold medal could be etched into Olympic folklore for excess of Samaranch’s cameo, stolen from her Melbourne residence three years later, allegedly present in a metropolis laneway and recovered in a clandestine operation by tv community 9 (the homeowners of this masthead).
The taekwondo champion, the daughter of singer Ronnie Burns, dived into the motivational talking circuit after her Olympic success. She had retired from the game professionally when she walked off the mat having overwhelmed Cuba’s Urbia Melendez within the gold medal combat.
Every time she addressed faculty college students, enterprise leaders or group teams, her gold medal was there. By the top of 2003, Burns estimated it had handed by tens of 1000’s of palms.
However after returning residence from abroad lower than a fortnight earlier than Christmas, she was greeted by her worst nightmare. Her involved father and accomplice on the time had been panicked at her Fitzroy North home, fearing the worst and hoping for the perfect.
“They had been standing exterior my home ready they usually’re like, ‘the place did you permit that medal?’ They knew the place I used to maintain it and it wasn’t there,” Burns says. “And I used to be like, ‘simply the place I at all times have it’.
“I am very trusting of it [when speaking to groups] as a result of folks love to the touch it and really feel it. It is bought a beautiful weight about it. I at all times belief it’ll come again as a result of what are they going to do with it?”
However this time, Burns wasn’t positive.
Her residence had been the topic of a random break-in, with thieves stealing jewelry, CDs, even a pair of denims – however devastatingly additionally her gold medal.
She did not care about the remainder of her possessions, solely the one she had gained a number of years earlier, which required a lot dedication, to the purpose the place she even forfeited an opportunity to look at Freeman’s history-making win at Stadium Australia fearing it will sap an excessive amount of power.
With the assistance of the Australian Olympic Committee, Burns launched an instantaneous marketing campaign to have her medal returned. She fronted a press convention asking for its protected retrieval, whereas concessions had been additionally being made to have one other one manufactured in case her unique wasn’t returned.
“It was one thing that had felt part of me,” Burns says. “To not have it was uncommon, nevertheless it made me a bit extra philosophical that I had that win inside me. I believed, ‘I may not have the medal, however I’ve that have’. I felt actually unhappy to not have it, however I attempted to maneuver past that.”
Fortunately for Burns, another person could not.
Lower than every week earlier than Christmas, the switchboard rang at Channel 9’s Melbourne headquarters. Newsrooms often obtain random tip-offs, some are pursued and few lead wherever of significance.
However the particular person on the opposite finish of the road was about to ship one of many greatest scoops of the yr. She presupposed to have Burns’ lacking gold medal, a rolled gold snippet made for a pre-Christmas scores spike.
The story had been a sizzling one all week in Melbourne media circles. It was earlier than the social media period and the flexibility to interrupt the story about Burns’ gold medal being discovered was value a vacation bonus alone.
Longtime Melbourne-based 9 sports activities anchor Tony Jones was within the newsroom when his chief-of-staff stated there was a cellphone name he ought to in all probability take.
“I stated, ‘hi there’. Then this girl says, ‘look, I am simply letting you recognize I’ve discovered this medal’,” Jones recollects. “I stated, ‘the place did you discover it?’ One factor led to a different and we agreed to satisfy in a parking lot at Coles in Smith Avenue, Collingwood.”
There are extra lavish locations to do your buying, however Jones had been round lengthy sufficient to know the perfect presents generally come badly wrapped.
He shortly alerted his cameraman, made positive he was wired for audio after which jumped in one of many station’s information automobiles to satisfy the girl within the grocery store parking zone.
As soon as there, the nameless cellphone caller hopped within the automobile. She directed the pair to a close-by block of housing fee items, on a regular basis with the 9 digicam filming.
“Then two blokes got here out they usually had the gold medal in a plastic bag,” Jones says.
If solely it was that simple.
“They stated, ‘here is the medal we discovered’,” Jones says. “I stated, ‘terrific. I put my hand out they usually stated, ‘$3000’. I stated, ‘nah, that will not be occurring’. Then they stated, ‘$2000’. I stated, ‘will not be occurring’.
“It was simply earlier than Christmas they usually stated, ‘c’mon, we wish to purchase our little bloke some Christmas presents’. Then they stated, ‘$1000’. I do not know why however I stated, ‘$900 as a reward for returning it’. They stated, ‘yeah, OK. Effective’.”
The one drawback was Jones did not have any money on him.
“I needed to go to the handybank and get out the $900 from an account my spouse did not know I had,” he laughs, later confessing that evening to how he accessed the cash.
I at all times belief it’ll come again as a result of what are they going to do with it?
Regardless of having the medal, Jones did not assume the story was full. The medal was nonetheless wrapped within the ribbon Burns had left it in, however he did not know the place it had been discovered.
No drawback. The cashed-up residents had been solely too glad to point out him the Melbourne laneway the place that they had recovered it from. So, the 9 digicam descended on it to file some imaginative and prescient.
In the meantime, Burns was counting down the times till a Christmas she was beginning to realise could be with out the possession she had labored her complete sporting profession for.
Till her cellphone rang from 9, who stated that they had a superb lead on the hunt for the medal. There was no affirmation it had been reclaimed, only a promise there was some progress they usually wished to see her head to head.
“We did not wish to inform her as a result of we wished that component of shock after which I simply pulled it out of my pocket,” Jones says. “She was fairly glad.”
Says Burns: “I simply felt so grateful, it was wonderful. It was like being reunited with an previous good friend. I at all times felt prefer it was a boomerang. That was what I believed after I gave it out at talks. After which to have it again all the things felt proper.
“It was a couple of week [missing], nevertheless it felt prefer it was a month. I suppose I used to be making an attempt to come back to phrases I may not ever have it.”
To this present day, Burns says there have been no police expenses laid over the theft.
She’s nonetheless on the talking circuit 20 years on, juggling that with being a mom of two and ending her PhD after beforehand finishing a Bachelor of Well being Science in naturopathy and diet. It has led her to write down dietary applications for nearly a dozen childcare centres.
And as for that gold medal?
Effectively, it is impressed various good samaritans over time. Burns delivered a chat to Ruyton Women’ College in Melbourne shortly after her Olympic success, the place a scholar and promising hurdler, Kim Brennan (nee Crow), was listening.
“She stated, ‘you impressed me a lot about how a gold medallist has to assume’,” Burns recollects. “She stated it modified her when it comes to the mindset and dedication and the way she needed to assume as a gold medallist. I believed, ‘that is wonderful. That is so cool’.”
Brennan would change sports activities to rowing after a critical leg harm ended her athletics profession. She gained her personal gold in Rio 4 years in the past, now figuring out how Burns has felt all alongside.
“Individuals get so excited once they see it and maintain it so I nonetheless take it with me,” Burns says. “And I do not need that [break-in] expertise to alter my relationship with the medal and what I do with it.
“Nevertheless it was a reasonably uncommon story.”
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Adam Pengilly is a Sports activities reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.