Two Of Three Olympic Medals Won By Sandra Völker At Atlanta 1996 Fetch €26,000 At Auction


Update: Sandra Völker first auctioned her 1996 medals back in 2014 to clear debts. Today, her Olympic medals from the 100m freestyle and the 4x100m freestyle at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta for Germany fetched €26,000 at auction in Kassel. The Auction, by Agon Sportsworld, raised €15,000 for the silver medal earned over 100m freestyle and €11,000 for the relay medal. The proceeds went to the 2014 buyer, who had also fallen into financial difficulties. The story behind the story below:

Our June 18 report of yesterday: When Sandra Völker auctioned her Atlanta 1996 Olympic medals in 2014, they raised almost €60,000, which helped the German ace to clear a large chunk of the €100,000 debts she had incurred when investments and business did not take off as intended.

Now, two of her three medals will go under the hammer once more tomorrow, in a week in which she celebrates the 20th anniversary of the 50m backstroke World record in Berlin, on on 28.25sec. The standard would stand for five years until fellow German Janine Pietsch clocked 28.19 in the same pool.

While Vöelker’s bankruptcy was clear in 2018 and her life got back on track, the private patron who bought her medals has run into financial difficulties himself and must now sell on. He had originally planned to reassign the medals to Völker but cannot now do so.

Völker’s story is among those that show in the starkest of terms how multi-Olympic medallists with huge careers and a pantheon of medals won for her country in swimming comes out with nothing to show for it, financially, but debts and the struggles that come hand-in-hand with a bank balance in the red.

By the time she retired after attempting to make what would have been a fifth Olympic Games, at Beijing 2008, Völker, now 46, had made 65 international podiums for Germany, including a silver and two bronzes at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, four (1 long-course) World and 30 (9 long-course) European and 45 German titles.

Atlanta was the highlight. Coached by Dirk Lange, Völker took silver in a controversial 100m freestyle final in which the gold went to China’s World record holder Le Jingyi, whose coach Zhou Ming mentored several national testers who would test positive for doping and, eventually in 1998, lead to his suspension for eight years.

Le clocked 54.50, Völkers 54.88. Bronze went to American Angel Martino (nee Myers, now Sims), who eight years before had been dropped from the Olympic team after testing positive for the banned steroid Nandrolone at the U.S. trials. She claimed throughout an appeals process that the use of a birth-control pill triggered the positive result. In Atlanta, she closed 54.93 to make it the second sub-55sec podium in history after Barcelona 1992.

At a time when the Chinese swimming team was seen as “GDR Mark II” because of the high number of positive doping cases, Völker, then 22, emerged from the 100m final to say she felt like “a true winner … for me, those closest to me, my friends, I’m definitely the Olympic champion.”

The Backdrop To The Moment Sandra Völker Might Have Been Olympic Champion

Le did not fail a doping test. She was, however, part of a squad led by Zhou that was soaked in banned substances and part of a World Championships team that produced seven positive tests in one go at Hiroshima airport as a squad under the guidance of Zhou and others arrived in Japan for the Asian Games. A month before, Chinese women had “done a DDR” by swamping the Rome 1994 World Championships with off-the-chart performances, some winners having hardly been heard of before. The breaststroke podiums over 100 and 200m included a swimmer who had never made an impact before, Yuan Yuan.

Zhou’s ban followed the 1998 World Championships, at which four of his charges tested positive after 13 vials of HGH (human growth hormone) were found in the kit bag of Yuan Yuan in Sydney, Australia, on her way to Perth. There was enough HGH to supply the entire China swim team. She was banned for four years, her coach for life.

The 1994 controversy led to intense scrutiny of China and in Atlanta, Le was the only Chinese winner in the pool.

Völker also claimed gold in the 50m freestyle won by American Amy Van Dyken in 24.87, Le second in 24.90, the German sprinter third in 25.15, ahead of Martino’s 25.31.

There was a second bronze for Völker in the 4x100m freestyle, as a member of the German quartet, the USA home first, China second. As Lange put it at the time as he celebrated three medals for his charge: “This is a milestone in our development. Rosy times are coming.”

What Happened Next


Sandra Volker in her swimming heydey – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Völker returned home to a roaring welcome form fans at Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel airport. TV appearances, PR appointments and lucrative contracts and autograph signings followed.

She would still be swimming 12 years on, she built a swim school, bought property as investments and all, for a while, seemed well. In 2008 Sandra Völker ended her active career as a swimmer after 45 German championships and over 60 international medals.

Things then started to go downhill. Völker was no longer able to pay the instalments for the property she’d invested in, accumulated debts and in 2013 had to apply for personal bankruptcy. At times, she lived off social security and unemployment benefits.

Völker suffered from depression after her career ended. That was compounded by  financial difficulties caused by a house purchase made at a time when a swim school project did not take off as it had been hoped.

In 2014, she launched a fund-raising campaign online, selling old swimsuits and other items from her heyday in the pool. In a drastic effort to raise significant capital to clear her debts, she decided to sell her Olympic medals.

It was March 2014, when Sandra Voelker, announced that she would auction her silver and bronze medals from the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, as well as the WorldChampionship gold from the Fukuoka 2001 World titles as a last resort to raise enough to pay off a €100,000 debt. She told a local newspaper in Hamburg:

“That’s the situation I am in. Even if the medals have to go, no-one can take away my memories.”

At the time, Voelker was working as a clerk at an online store for vegan products. Her aim was to be debt-free within six years.

Völker raised €28,000 from her silver medal won in the 100 metres freestyle at Atlanta.

Völker’s two bronze medals from Atlanta were sold for €12,000 (50 free) and €16,000 (4×100) each, while she also raised money from other items, including a swimsuit for €150 and a swimming lesson for €460. Völker told reporters:

  • “It’s a great outcome and naturally I’m relieved. It’s a weight off my shoulders.”

Bankruptcy proceedings were completed in spring 2018 after only four and a half years and the mother of three was debt-free.

Today, Sandra Völker lives in Scharbeutz on the Baltic Sea coast and opened a swimming school in 2019. She also works as a coach, gives lectures, seminars and organizes workshops.

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The 2020 auction tomorrow will include:

  • The 100m free Olympic silver medal from Atlanta 1996 – engraved “Women 100m Freestyle”. Silver (175 grams), 7cm, thickness: 0.5 cm. With green, embroidered silk ribbon in the original wooden case. Also included: a signed autograph card from Sandra Völker.
  • The 4x100m free bronze medal of Sandra Völker as a member of the Germany 4x100m freestyle relay at Atlanta 1996 – engraved “Women ́s 4x100m Freestyle Relay”. Bronze (165 grams), 7 cm, thickness: 0.5 cm. With green, embroidered silk ribbon in the original wooden case. Also included: Original certificate for this medal with the name “Sandra Völker” printed on it; Carton, 30.5×21.5 cm in the original folder.


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