I recently read a fascinating story about the fate of the Olympic gold medals awarded to the members of the 1922 British Everest expedition.
Didn’t know medals were awarded outside of the Olympics? Me neither. As the great piece on Sidetracked.co.uk explains, at that time it sometimes did happen that Olympic medals were awarded for notable achievements outside the Games themselves. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, awarded 13 medals to the members of the expedition for its successes (they didn’t reach the summit but were the first team to climb higher than 8000m).
Lt. Colonel Strutt, who collected the medals on behalf of the expedition, got talking to de Coubertin and they agreed between themselves that Britain would try to put one of the medals on the top of Everest. With several further expeditions in the pipeline it must have seemed likely that it would happen within a few years, but in fact the first successful ascent to the summit was not until 1953 when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the top of the world. By this time, the pledge had been forgotten, and neither of the men was British in any case.
The agreement was forgotten until Kenton Cool, a British mountaineer with a number of Everest ascents under his belt, heard about it and resolved to fulfill the pledge.
He and his team managed to get hold of a medal and after waiting weeks at base camp for a weather window, were able to take the medal to the summit and keep the promise made 90 years previously. They did so last year, prior to the start of the London Games and on arrival back at Kathmandu, they even got a phone call from Lord Coe, chairman of LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) to congratulate them.
It’s a great story and be sure to read Kenton’s full account at http://www.sidetracked.co.uk/edition-08/everest.php.