America loves its athletes. Sporting events are in the news all year, every season. When the Olympic Games happen, they dominate the news for weeks. A number of athletes and sporting events have been commemorated on United States coins.
This year, Jim Thorpe appears on a dollar coin. A member of the Sac-Fox Nation, Thorpe’s native name was Wa-Tho-Hak, which means bright path. His name appears on the 2018 Native American dollar. The reverse of this coin shows Thorpe competing in the Olympics and playing football.
Thorpe won two gold medals at the 1912 Olympics, in the pentathlon and decathlon. He played football for the Canton Bulldogs and was one of the first inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also played baseball with the New York Giants.
Baseball great Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in major league baseball, was honored on two coins in 1997. The silver dollar shows him sliding home, reminiscent of the 1955 World Series. The $5 gold bears a portrait of an older Robinson and the logo of his foundation. A number of packages were available including the coins, a pin with the Robinson Foundation logo and a replica of a Robinson baseball card.
A number of coins in silver, gold and copper-nickel were minted to celebrate the Olympic Games of 1984, held in Los Angeles; 1992, held in Barcelona; and 1996, held in Atlanta. The latter coins were struck in 1995 and 1996. Specific athletes were not named or commemorated on these coins, but all have dynamic designs, showing elite athletes competing for the gold in the most popular sports. Along with the symbolism of the torch and Olympic rings, the coins display athletes competing in their sports. Well struck, Mint State and proof issues capture the excitement.
The 1984 silver dollar depicts a discus thrower. This stylized rendition is based on Discobolus, a sculpture by Myron, who worked in the fifth century B.C. A gold $10 coin shows two runners bearing the Olympic torch. Olympic torch bearers can be athletes or someone who has made a special contribution to society.
Three distinctive coins showing athletes in action were struck in 1992. The copper-nickel clad half dollar shows a gymnast performing a leaping split. The silver dollar depicts a baseball pitcher in his motion. It was said that the pitcher resembles Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. The $5 gold shows a sprinter appearing to come forward to the viewer. These three coins depict top athletes in motion, capturing the movement and athleticism seen in the Olympics.
More than a dozen different coins were issued in 1995-1996 to commemorate the Olympic Games held in Atlanta. Four clad half dollars showed the sports of basketball, baseball, swimming and soccer. The silver dollars depicted gymnastics, Paralympics, track and field, cycling, tennis, rowing and the high jump. This large selection of coins, a first for the United States, shows many different sports that appeal to a wide variety of fans. Athletes are shown participating in their sports, not symbolic renderings, but active poses.
The Paralympics began in 1948 with a group of British World War II veterans. It has grown from 400 athletes and 23 sports in 1960 to thousands of athletes and hundreds of sports in recent years. The Paralympics silver dollar depicts a blind runner. The word “spirit” appears in Braille.
Other coins show a female tennis player hitting the ball, a swimmer in the pool, and a high jumper executing the Fosbury Flop. This move was made famous by Dick Fosbury, who won a gold medal in 1968.
The track and field silver dollar shows two runners approaching the finish line. The cycling dollar shows three competitors head on, as if they are coming right at the viewer.
The United States hosted the 1994 World Cup. This soccer tournament included games among 141 nations, ending in the Final held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Brazil beat Italy in the final. The clad half dollar and silver dollar show soccer players in action with the ball.
American sports fans have a lot to choose from in picking coins commemorating the joy of athletics and the top performers. Olympics fans, baseball and football fans, and other sports fans can show their enthusiasm by including a number of these coins in their collections.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
More Collecting Resources
• More than 600 issuing locations are represented in the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1701-1800 .
• Order the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, General Issues to learn about circulating paper money from 14th century China to the mid 20th century.