You wouldn’t know it with all of the hype surrounding the Olympics right now, but there are things more important than winning a gold medal. Just ask these athletes, who had good reason to sell their hard-earned precious metal.
1. Mark Wells, U.S.
You might wonder how an Olympic athlete could part with any gold medal, let alone one attached to such a historic and emotional victory. Wells didn’t part with it lightly: he sold it to help pay for medical treatments related to a rare genetic disease that damaged his spinal cord. He sold the medal to a private collector, who in turn sold it through an auction house for $310,700 in 2010. This is the heartbreaking note that accompanied the medal:
"The gold medal symbolizes my personal accomplishments and our team's accomplishments being reached. As one of only 20 players to receive this gold medal, it has held a special place in my heart since February of 1980. When I decided recently to offer it out . . . I also decided until the day I give it up, it will be worn. Therefore, I have slept with this medal for the past two weeks now in my home . . . I hope you will cherish this medal as I have."
2. Wladimir Klitschko, Ukraine
The Atlanta Games marked the first year Ukraine went to the Olympics as an independent country, so the gold medal that the Steel Hammer picked up was pretty special. To Klitschko, though, helping Ukrainian children get involved in sports is even more important. He auctioned off his prize earlier this year, earning $1 million for the Klitschko Brothers Foundation that helps fund children's sports camps and facilities. The bidder? A mysterious benefactor who immediately returned the medal to the man who earned it.
3. Anthony Ervin, U.S.
Anthony Ervin won the gold in the 50m freestyle at the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite this success, he retired from the sport in 2003 at the age of 22, saying that he "needed to kind of figure out my own life … unhindered, unfettered from the discipline of being a competitive, professional swimmer.” He put his gold medal on eBay in 2004, donating the $17,101 it earned to victims of the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Ervin made an appearance in the 50m in 2012, but failed to medal.
4. Otylia Jedrzejczak, Poland
Before she even qualified for the Athens Olympics 10 years ago, Jedrzejczak declared that any gold medals she won would be donated to charity. When she found herself at the top of the winner's stand not long after, she made good on the promise. Her medal from the 200m butterfly went for more than $80,000 and benefited a Polish charity that helps kids with leukemia. "I don't need the medal to remember," she said. "I know I'm the Olympic champion. That's in my heart."
And One Who Tried To: Tommie Smith, U.S.
1968 Track & Field
Even if you don't know the name Tommie Smith, you've seen him: he was one of two American men who silently raised a gloved fist in the Black Power salute at the 200m dash victory ceremony. Despite the medal's significance, he put it on the auction block. Twice.
In 2000, Smith and his wife, Delois Jordan-Smith, started TommieSmith.com, the Web site featuring an auction of the athlete's memorabilia. The asking price at the time was $500,000, although Smith admitted the odds of someone ponying up the cash were probably ''smaller than a mustard seed.''
He was right to be skeptical. Ten years later, Smith re-launched the auction, this time starting the bidding at $250,000. Many speculated that Smith needed the money to live, but David Steele, the co-writer of Smith’s 2007 autobiography, didn’t think so. “I worry with this news getting out now that everyone is going to get that impression. Unless something has changed in the last year, I don’t think it’s the case.”
“I know he wants to fund a youth initiative and a good portion of the money off the sale would go toward that,” said Gary J. Zimet, a representative from Moments in Time auction house. Smith himself has remained silent on the topic.
The auction soon fell out of the news cycle and there are no reports of anyone offering even that discounted price. That said, the medal has disappeared off TommieSmith.com but if you’re in the market for an Olympic medal of your own (and have a spare quarter of a mil), drop him a line, you might still be in luck.
When Roger Ebert hated a film, he didn't mince words. On what would have been the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer's 76th birthday, here are some movies he absolutely loathed (including a couple of surprises) and his dry assessments of their value.
1. ARMAGEDDON (1998) // 1 STAR
“The movie is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained. No matter what they’re charging to get in, it’s worth more to get out. ... Armageddon reportedly used the services of nine writers. Why did it need any? The dialogue is either shouted one-liners or romantic drivel. ‘It’s gonna blow!’ is used so many times, I wonder if every single writer used it once, and then sat back from his word processor with a contented smile on his face, another day’s work done.”
2. THE BROWN BUNNY (2003) // 0 STARS
"I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than The Brown Bunny."
When the movie’s director responded by mocking Ebert’s weight, Ebert said, “It is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of The Brown Bunny."
3. JASON X (2001) // HALF STAR
"'This sucks on so many levels.' Dialogue from Jason X; rare for a movie to so frankly describe itself. Jason X sucks on the levels of storytelling, character development, suspense, special effects, originality, punctuation, neatness and aptness of thought."
4. MAD DOG TIME (1996) // 0 STARS
"Mad Dog Time is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time. Oh, I've seen bad movies before. But they usually made me care about how bad they were. Watching Mad Dog Time is like waiting for the bus in a city where you're not sure they have a bus line ... Mad Dog Time should be cut into free ukulele picks for the poor."
5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995) // 1.5 STARS
"Once again, my comprehension began to slip, and finally I wrote down: 'To the degree that I do understand, I don't care.' It was, however, somewhat reassuring at the end of the movie to discover that I had, after all, understood everything I was intended to understand. It was just that there was less to understand than the movie at first suggests."
6. DEUCE BIGALOW: EUROPEAN GIGOLO (2005) // ZERO STARS
"[The title character] makes a living prostituting himself. How much he charges I'm not sure, but the price is worth it if it keeps him off the streets and out of another movie. Deuce Bigalow is aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience. The best thing about it is that it runs for only 75 minutes ... Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."
7. MR. MAGOO (1997) // HALF STAR
“Magoo drives a red Studebaker convertible in Mr. Magoo, a fact I report because I love Studebakers and his was the only thing I liked in the film. Mr. Magoo is transcendently bad. It soars above ordinary badness as the eagle outreaches the fly.”
8. SPICE WORLD (1997) // HALF STAR
"Spice World is obviously intended as a ripoff of A Hard Day's Night which gave The Beatles to the movies ... the huge difference, of course, is that the Beatles were talented—while, let's face it, the Spice Girls could be duplicated by any five women under the age of 30 standing in line at Dunkin' Donuts."
9. GOOD LUCK CHUCK (2007) // 1 STAR
"There is a word for this movie, and that word is: Ick."
10. FREDDY GOT FINGERED (2001)// 0 STARS
"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."
11. CORKY ROMANO (2001) //HALF STAR
“Corky Romano is like a dead zone of comedy. The concept is exhausted, the ideas are tired, the physical gags are routine, the story is labored, the actors look like they can barely contain their doubts about the project.”
12. CHARLIE'S ANGELS (2000) // HALF STAR
“Charlie’s Angels is like the trailer for a video game movie, lacking only the video game, and the movie.”
13. MANNEQUIN (1987) // HALF STAR
“A lot of bad movies are fairly throbbing with life. Mannequin is dead. The wake lasts 1 1/2 hours, and then we can leave the theater. Halfway through, I was ready for someone to lead us in reciting the rosary.”
14. EXIT TO EDEN (1994)// HALF STAR
“I’m sorry, but I just don’t get Rosie O’Donnell. I’ve seen her in three or four movies now, and she generally had the same effect on me as fingernails on a blackboard. She’s harsh and abrupt and staccato and doesn’t seem to be having any fun. She looks mean. ... What were your first thoughts the first time Rosie turned up in the leather dominatrix uniform? Did you maybe have slight misgivings that you were presiding over one of the more misguided film projects of recent years?”
15. HOCUS POCUS (1993) // 1 STAR
“Of the film’s many problems, the greatest may be that all three witches are thoroughly unpleasant. They don’t have personalities; they have behavior patterns and decibel levels. A good movie inspires the audience to subconsciously ask, ‘Give me more!’ The witches in this one inspired my silent cry, ‘Get me out of here!’”
(What can we say? Ebert was occasionally wrong.)
16. TOMMY BOY (1995) // 1 STAR
“No one is funny in Tommy Boy. There are no memorable lines. None of the characters is interesting, except for the enigmatic figure played by Rob Lowe, who seems to have wandered over from Hamlet. Judging by the evidence on the screen, the movie got a green light before a usable screenplay had been prepared, with everybody reassuring themselves that since they were such funny people, inspiration would overcome them.”
17. THE VILLAGE (2004)// 1 STAR
“Eventually the secret of Those, etc., is revealed. It’s a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It’s so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don’t know the secret anymore. And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we’re back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets.”
18. THE LOVE GURU (2008) // 1 STAR
“Myers has some funny moments, but this film could have been written on toilet walls by callow adolescents. Every reference to a human sex organ or process of defecation is not automatically funny simply because it is naughty, but Myers seems to labor under that delusion. He acts as if he’s getting away with something, but in fact all he’s getting away with is selling tickets to a dreary experience.”
19. SHE'S OUT OF CONTROL (1989) // 0 STARS
“What planet did the makers of this film come from? What assumptions do they have about the purpose and quality of life? I ask because She’s Out of Control is simultaneously so bizarre and so banal that it’s a first: the first movie fabricated entirely from sitcom cliches and plastic lifestyles, without reference to any known plane of reality.”
20. SUMMER SCHOOL (1987)// HALF STAR
“You see it, you leave the theater, and then it evaporates, leaving just a slight residue, something like a vaguely unpleasant taste in the memory.”
21. CLIFFORD (1994) // HALF STAR
“It’s not bad in any usual way. It’s bad in a new way all its own. There is something extraterrestrial about it, as if it’s based on the sense of humor of an alien race with a completely different relationship to the physical universe. The movie is so odd, it’s most worth seeing just because we’ll never see anything like it again. I hope.”
22. NORTH (1994) // 0 STARS
"I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."
Alan Zweibel wrote this film, and he got a chance to confront Ebert about the review. In a bathroom.
23. 200 CIGARETTES (1999)// HALF STAR
"Maybe another 200 cigarettes would have helped; coughing would be better than some of this dialogue."
24. DEATH TO SMOOCHY (2002) // HALF STAR
"In all the annals of the movies, few films have been this odd, inexplicable and unpleasant."
25. SAVING SILVERMAN (2001) // HALF STAR
"Saving Silverman is so bad in so many different ways that perhaps you should see it, as an example of the lowest slopes of the bell-shaped curve."
He included a critique of Neil Diamond, who makes a guest appearance in the movie: "As for Neil Diamond, Saving Silverman is his first appearance in a fiction film since The Jazz Singer (1980), and one can only marvel that he waited 20 years to appear in a second film, and found one even worse than his first one."
"Diamond's whole presence in this movie is offensively narcissistic. His songs are melodramatic, interchangeable, self-aggrandizing groans and anguished shouts, backed protectively by expensive and cloying instrumentation. His dramatic presence also looks over-protected, as if nobody was willing to risk offending him by asking him to seem involved, caring and engaged.
"Diamond plays the whole movie looking at people's third shirt buttons, as if he can't be bothered to meet their eyes and relate with them. It's strange about the Diamond performance: It's not just that he can't act. It's that he sends out creepy vibes. He seems self-absorbed, closed off, grandiose, out of touch with his immediate surroundings."
27. ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (1994) // 1 STAR
"Most of the people look as if they would rather be in other movies. The movie basically has one joke, which is Ace Ventura's weird nerdy strangeness. If you laugh at this joke, chances are you laugh at Jerry Lewis, too, and I can sympathize with you even if I can't understand you. I found the movie a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot. Kids might like it. Real little kids."
28. STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT (1992) // HALF STAR
"Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! is one of those movies so dimwitted, so utterly lacking in even the smallest morsel of redeeming value, that you stare at the screen in stunned disbelief. It is moronic beyond comprehension, an exercise in desperation during which even Sylvester Stallone, a repository of self-confidence, seems to be disheartened."
29. THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (2005) // 1 STAR
"Of course you don't have to be smart to get into The Dukes of Hazzard. But people like Willie Nelson and Burt Reynolds should have been smart enough to stay out of it. Here is a lame-brained, outdated wheeze about a couple of good ol' boys who roar around the back roads of the South in the General Lee, their beloved 1969 Dodge Charger. As it happens, I also drove a 1969 Dodge Charger. You could have told them apart because mine did not have a Confederate flag painted on the roof."
30. GODZILLA (1998) // 1.5 STARS
"Going to see Godzilla at the Palais of the Cannes Film Festival is like attending a satanic ritual in St. Peter's Basilica. It's a rebuke to the faith that the building represents. Cannes touchingly adheres to a belief that film can be intelligent, moving and grand. Godzilla is a big, ugly, ungainly device to give teenagers the impression they are seeing a movie."
31. THE BUCKET LIST (2007) // 1 STAR
"The Bucket List is a movie about two old codgers who are nothing like people, both suffering from cancer that is nothing like cancer, and setting off on adventures that are nothing like possible. I urgently advise hospitals: Do not make the DVD available to your patients; there may be an outbreak of bedpans thrown at TV screens."
32. DIRTY LOVE (2005) // 0 STAR
"I would like to say more, but—no, I wouldn't. I would not like to say more. I would like to say less. On the basis of Dirty Love, I am not certain that anyone involved has ever seen a movie, or knows what one is."
33. BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000) // HALF STAR
"This movie is awful in so many different ways. Even the opening titles are cheesy. Sci-fi epics usually begin with a stab at impressive titles, but this one just displays green letters on the screen in a type font that came with my Macintosh. Then the movie's subtitle unscrolls from left to right in the kind of 'effect' you see in home movies."
34. THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS (2000) // HALF STAR
"This is an ideal first movie for infants, who can enjoy the bright colors on the screen and wave their tiny hands to the music."
35. PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) // 0 STARS
"John Waters' Pink Flamingos has been restored for its 25th anniversary revival, and with any luck at all that means I won't have to see it again for another 25 years. If I haven't retired by then, I will. ... Note: I am not giving a star rating to Pink Flamingos because stars simply seem not to apply. It should be considered not as a film but as a fact, or perhaps as an object."
Bald eagles are powerful symbols of America—but there’s a whole lot more to these quirky birds.
1. YOUNG BALD EAGLES AREN'T BALD.
So obviously adult bald eagles aren't really bald, either—their heads have bright white plumage that contrasts with their dark body feathers, giving them a "bald" look. But young bald eagles have mostly brown heads. In fact, for the first four or five years of their lives, they move through a complicated series of different plumage patterns; in their second year, for instance, they have white bellies.
2. BALD EAGLES SOUND SO SILLY THAT HOLLYWOOD DUBS OVER THEIR VOICES.
A red-tailed hawk's screech is usually dubbed over the bald eagle's weaker scream.
It's a scene you’ve probably seen countless times in movies and on TV: an eagle flies overhead and emits a rough, piercing scream. It's a classic symbol of wilderness and adventure. The only problem? Bald eagles don't make that sound.
Instead, they emit a sort of high-pitched giggle or a weak scream. These noises are so unimpressive that Hollywood sound editors often dub over bald eagle calls with far more impressive sounds: the piercing, earthy screams of a smaller bird, the red-tailed hawk. If you were a fan of The Colbert Report, you might remember the show's iconic CGI eagle from the opener—it, too, is making that red-tailed hawk cry. Listen for yourself and decide who sounds more impressive.
3. THEY EAT TRASH AND STOLEN FOOD.
Picture a majestic bald eagle swooping low over a lake and catching a fish in its powerful claws. Yes, bald eagles eat a lot of fish—but they don't always catch it themselves. They've perfected the art of stealing fish from other birds such as ospreys, chasing them down until they drop their prey.
Bald eagles will also snack on gulls, ducks, rabbits, crabs, amphibians, and more. They'll scavenge in dumpsters, feed on waste from fish processing plants, and even gorge on carrion (dead, decaying animals).
4. BALD EAGLES USUALLY MATE FOR LIFE.
Trash and carrion aside, they're pretty romantic animals. Bald eagles tend to pair up for life, and they share parenting duties: the male and the female take turns incubating the eggs, and they both feed their young.
5. … AND THEY LIVE PRETTY LONG LIVES.
Those romantic partnerships are even more impressive because bald eagles can survive for decades. In 2015, a wild eagle in Henrietta, New York, died at the record age of 38. Considering that these birds pair up at 4 or 5 years of age, that's a lot of Valentine's Days.
6. THEY HOLD THE RECORD FOR THE LARGEST BIRD'S NEST.
Bald eagles build enormous nests high in the treetops. The male and female work on the nest together, and this quality time helps them cement their lifelong bond. Their cozy nurseries consist of a framework of sticks lined with softer stuff such as grass and feathers. If the nest serves them well during the breeding season, they'll keep using it year after year. And, like all homeowners, they can't resist the thought of renovating and adding to their abode. Every year, they'll spruce it up with a whopping foot or two of new material.
In many animal species, males are (on average) larger than females. Male gorillas, for example, dwarf their female counterparts. But for most birds of prey, it's the opposite. Male bald eagles weight about 25 percent less than females.
Scientists aren't sure why there's such a size difference. One reason might be the way they divide up their nesting duties. Females take the lead in arranging the nesting material, so being bigger might help them take charge. Also, they spend longer incubating the eggs than males, so their size could intimidate would-be egg thieves.
If you're trying to tell male and female eagles apart, this size difference may help you—especially since both sexes have the same plumage patterns.
8. TO IDENTIFY THEM, LOOK AT THE WINGS.
People often get excited about a big soaring bird and yell "It's an eagle!” just before it swoops closer and … oops, it's a vulture. Here's a handy identification tip. Bald eagles usually soar with their wings almost flat. On the other hand, the turkey vulture—another dark, soaring bird—holds its wings up in a shallow V shape called a dihedral. A lot of large hawks also soar with slightly raised wings.
9. THEY'RE COMEBACK KIDS.
Before European settlers arrived, bald eagles were abundant across the U.S. But with settlement came habitat destruction, and the settlers viewed the eagles as competition for game and as a threat to livestock. So many eagles were killed that in 1940 Congress passed an act to protect the birds.
Unfortunately, another threat rose up at about that time. Starting after World War II, farmers and public health officials used an insecticide called DDT. The chemical worked well to eradicate mosquitos and agricultural pests—but as it traveled up the food chain, it began to heavily affect birds of prey. DDT made eagle eggshells too thin and caused the eggs to break. A 1963 survey found just 471 bald eagle pairs in the lower 48 states.
DDT was banned in the early 1970s, and conservationists began to breed bald eagles in captivity and reintroduce them in places across America. Luckily, this species made a spectacular recovery. Now the lower 48 states boast over 9700 nesting pairs.
10. THEY'RE UNIQUELY NORTH AMERICAN.
The African fish eagle is a relative of the North American bald eagle.
You've probably heard of America's other eagle: the golden eagle. This bird lives throughout much of the northern hemisphere. But the bald eagle is only found in North America. It lives across much of Canada and the U.S., as well as northern parts of Mexico.
Though it may be North American, the bald eagle has seven close relatives that are found throughout the world. They all belong to the genus Haliaeetus, which comes—pretty unimaginatively—from the Latin words for "sea" and "eagle." One relative, the African fish eagle, is a powerful symbol in its own right. It represents several countries; for example, it's the national symbol of Zambia, and graces the South Sudanese, Malawian, and Namibian coats of arms.
11. THEY'RE AERIAL DAREDEVILS.
It seems too weird to be true: While flying, bald eagles sometimes grab each other's feet and spin while plummeting to the Earth. Scientists aren't sure why they do this—perhaps it's a courtship ritual or a territorial battle. Usually, the pair will separate before hitting the ground (as seen in this remarkable set of photographs). But sometimes they hold tight and don't let go. These two male bald eagles locked talons and hit the ground with their feet still connected. One subsequently escaped and the other was treated for talon wounds.
12. THEIR EYES ARE AMAZING.
What if you could close your eyes and still see? Besides the usual pair of eyelids, bald eagles have a see-through eyelid called a nictitating membrane. They can close this membrane to protect their eyes while their main eyelids remain open. The membrane also helps moisten and clean their eyes.
Eagles also have sharper vision than people, and their field of vision is wider. Plus, they can see ultraviolet light. Both of those things mean the expression "eagle eye" is spot-on.
13. THEY MIGRATE … SORT OF.
If you're a bald eagle that nests in northern Canada, you'll probably head south for the winter to avoid the punishing cold. Many eagles fly south for the winter and return north for the summer—as do plenty of other bird species (and retired Canadians). But not all bald eagles migrate. Some of them, including individuals in New England and Canada's Maritime provinces, stick around all year. Whether or not a bird migrates depends on how old it is and how much food is available.
14. THEY CAN SWIM … SORT OF.
There are several videos online—like the one above—that show a bald eagle swimming in the sea, rowing itself to shore with its huge wings. Eagles have hollow bones and fluffy down, so they can float pretty well. But why swim instead of soar? Sometimes, an eagle will swoop down and grab an especially weighty fish, then paddle it to shore to eat.
Note that the announcer in the video above says that the eagle's talons are "locked" on a fish that's too heavy to carry. In fact, those lockable talons are an urban legend.