LONDON – You’re in bed. You reach over to turn out the light, and you are turning off the exact same light Michael Phelps turned off the night before he won the gold that made him the most decorated Olympian ever. That’s the dream, at least.
Meet the reality: Now anyone can own a piece of Olympic history. You just won’t know exactly whose piece it is.
More than 1 million items from the athletes village and Olympic Park are on sale right here, right now, and they’ll be ready for collection right after the Paralympic Games end in early September. Night stands? They got ’em. Lamps? Umpire’s chairs? Beanbags? Yes, yes and yes.
Almost all of the bits and pieces that helped make the London Olympics what they are – items from the places where people ate, where they competed, even where they slept – are available for the taking in what is effectively a massive post-Olympics fire sale. In the end, much of what made up the Olympic sites will be dispersed throughout Britain and beyond to anyone who puts down some cash.
“It occurred to me that the general population would want to buy furniture from the London Games,” said Paul Levin, who runs sales operations for Ramler Furniture, the company that won the contract to source and lease furniture to the London organizing committee.
On its website, Remains of the Games, choices range from the mundane to the abstract to relics from the Olympic Park landscape. There is, for example, a $312 blue-and-pink umpire chair used by crowd control around the Olympic Park. Volunteers perch at the top, megaphone in hand, shouting orders at excited spectators below.
There are also more intimate objects. For example, a nightstand of the type that sits next to every athlete’s bed will cost an individual buyer $30. If you want one of the beanbags used by relaxing Olympians, that’ll cost $23.50.
You won’t be told whose room it was in, but Levin calls that “part of the magic.” Everyone has a chance that the piece they purchased was used by a Bolt, a Douglas or a Phelps.
The most popular items have been “the obvious ones, the fun ones,” Levin said. Beanbags, for example. There were more than 6,500 of them around the site, and Levin expects them all to go by the end of August.
It’s not just about the fun stuff. Securing a contract was extremely competitive, so the furniture sale also makes business sense. For the company, selling off what it bought is a “massive necessity.”
One of the people helping to make that happen is Ben Silvey, 35, a development manager for the Bristol YMCA in the west of England, which is restructuring and can use many of these items. Its first big project is called The Kitchen – a cafe that trains young people as chefs and baristas. It’s a place that needs to be outfitted on a budget.
“We thought it looked interesting,” Silvey said. “Everyone was really excited about getting furniture from the games – you know, the sofa that Usain Bolt or Jessica Ennis sat on in the Olympic Village.”
Silvey bought eight sofas for The Kitchen; his colleagues working on a bigger parent project called The Station are looking into sourcing office furniture from the same place, maybe even some folding chairs from the athletes dining hall.
Yes, sipping a latte on the same sofa as your favorite Olympian undoubtedly has a certain cool factor. But in these tough economic times, it also comes down to cold, hard cash.
“We have a budget, and it’s obviously never as big as you want it to be,” Silvey said. “Being able to buy stuff that is good value is important, and it looked good value for money. It’s worked out really well for us – a bit of a bargain, really.”
However, he still comes back to the romance: “It is London 2012.”
That can be a potent marketing tool – particularly in Britain, where the Olympics have been a central part of the national narrative for seven years. After all, items can connect people to big events. That’s why people collect things. And particularly when stardom is involved, collecting the accessories of the admired can have a powerful allure.
“You get the same (thing) when you go to places where George Washington slept,” said Howard Mansfield, author of “The Same Ax, Twice: Restoration and Renewal in a Throwaway Age.” Washington, he said, “didn’t sleep every place people said he did, and the same will happen with these objects.”
He added: “They’re ordinary goods, but they’ve been blessed with a story. And that launches them into the world in some kind of eccentric orbit.”
Many of the items aren’t particularly exciting if you subtract their Olympic provenance. In fact, you might call them a version of Ikea – albeit an Olympic edition.
Anders Rune, 34, a Swede, comes from the land that made flat-pack furniture a staple of the home. After watching hockey in Olympic Park on Friday, he got a glimpse of what’s for sale. Would he want one of those 2 1/2-meter, brightly colored umpire chairs?
“Not that chair, no,” said the 34-year-old minister from London’s Swedish Church. His disdain was palpable.
“I wouldn’t buy anything just for the reason that it’s been in the athletics village,” Rune said. “If it was a good-looking piece, it would be nice to have it with a good story. But if it’s just that chair …”
The International Olympic Committee and its London counterpart, the organizing committee, are notorious for their protection of their name and branding. For a company to cash in on the Olympics name – or even the Olympics feeling – can be pretty tricky. Levin, though, isn’t worried.
“We can tell the truth, and the truth is that every piece has been used in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” he said.
It’s not officially endorsed. What you do get, though, is a sticker on the item that certifies it was, indeed, part of this particular place at this particular important moment in athletic and British history. It says: “This product was proudly made and supplied to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
“It gives it a glow,” said Mansfield, the author, who predicts some of the items will end up for posterity in British dens and rumpus rooms. “Instead of it being one ordinary object out of millions, it’s a noble story. It now has an Olympic presence.”
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