Maria Carrillo found Jordyn Poulter’s Olympic volleyball gold medal in the trash
When she picked up the McDonald’s bag, it felt heavy and she thought there might be a rock inside.
She opened it and saw a shiny object amid the crumpled hamburger wrappers and empty french fries boxes. It looked exactly like an Olympic gold medal.
She pulled it out and saw the words “Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020”, along with the five Olympic rings and the Greek goddess Nike.
“My first thought was, ‘This is so beautiful, is this real?’ she said of her June 27 discovery.
The discarded medal and the red, white and blue ribbon attached to it were in excellent condition, Carrillo said.
She phoned her husband, Noe Hernandez, 49, who runs the nearby Noel Barber Shop, and he told her the medal was probably fake. Carrillo decided to rush to her shop so he could see her. To her, it felt real.
“Noe has a friend who works for the police department, and it turns out he was coming in for a haircut,” Carrillo said. “As soon as [the officer] saw it, he told my husband it was real and had been stolen.
“We were like, ‘Oh my God, this is really somebody’s Olympic gold,'” Hernandez added.
Police checked their records and told the couple the gold medal belonged to Jordyn Poulter, the starting setter for the 2020 U.S. Women’s Volleyball Team. On May 25, they reported it stolen from her car while parked in his garage in Anaheim.
Poulter said she left it there by mistake a day after taking it with her to show friends.
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Poulter and her teammates won the medal at the Summer Olympics after defeating longtime rivals Brazil and winning Olympic gold for the first time in team history.
“People are curious about it and love to touch it and see how heavy it is,” Poulter said in an interview with The Washington Post. “It was my way of sharing the medal with anyone who feels connected to the sport or to Team USA.”
On the day it was stolen, Poulter said she accidentally left her car unlocked and someone took the medal and a few other items from the center console.
“I forgot to take it out of the car,” she said. “When I saw it had been stolen, I felt immediate regret. I also felt stupid for not locking the door.
“I thought my medal was long gone,” added Poulter. “I made peace with the fact that I would probably never see him again.”
Many people assume Olympic medals are solid gold, Poulter said, but that’s not the case.
“At the Tokyo Games, because they were the most sustainable games, they used computer parts and recycled smartphones to create the inside of the medals, then plated them in gold,” he said. she stated.
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The Games had actually been held in July 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the International Olympic Committee kept 2020 on all Tokyo medals and merchandise.
Poulter, who has been playing volleyball since the age of 7, said it was her life’s dream to stand on the Olympic podium and feel the weight of a gold medal around her neck.
“For me, my medal was priceless,” she said.
About two weeks after the burglary, Anaheim police arrested a suspect in the robbery, but they were unable to recover Poulter’s medal. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office charged Jordan Fernandez, 31, with burglary and other offenses on June 7. He is due to appear in a preliminary hearing on July 8.
Carrillo said she and her husband hadn’t heard any reports that the medal had been stolen, which is why they were stunned when they learned it was real. Carrillo said they wondered if someone might have thrown him behind his business after trying to sell him to the pawn shop next door.
A gold medal from the Tokyo Games is estimated to be worth around $812, but Carrillo said she knows the sentimental value is much higher.
“It’s the highlight of an athlete’s life,” she said.
“We wanted to do the right thing and give it back to this young athlete who had worked so much of her life to compete in the Olympics and win a gold medal,” she added.
Police are still investigating how the medal ended up behind Carrillo’s business.
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“We celebrate the good deed this couple has done by showing up,” said Sgt. Shane Carringer, spokesperson for the Anaheim Police Department. “An Olympic medal would be an extremely hard sell, and that’s really what’s most valuable to the person who won it.”
Carrillo put the medal around her neck to see what it would be like to wear Olympic gold, she said. But it never crossed her mind to keep it.
“I came to this country from Mexico 30 years ago and cleaned houses to earn enough money to start my own business,” she said. “I know what it’s like to work hard to achieve a dream. Whoever lost this medal deserved to get it back.
Poulter said she was in Canada for a volleyball tournament when she learned her medal had been found. Upon returning to Anaheim on July 5, she stopped at the police department to pick it up.
“I barely have words to express my gratitude to this couple for giving it back,” she said. “In the next few weeks, I want to go there and thank them in person.”
She said she planned to give Carrillo and Hernandez a $1,000 reward for doing the right thing.
“It’s crazy that it was stolen and crazy how it was found,” Poulter said. “But I’m really happy to get it back.”
She will never leave her Olympic gold medal in the car again, she said.
“I think I will send [the medal] at my parents in Denver and let them deal with it,” Poulter said.
As for Carrillo, she said she would never look at a trash bag the same way again.
“When you think of all the places it could have ended, I’m glad it ended here,” she said.
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