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Olympic volleyball player’s gold medal stolen from her car in Anaheim

Haleigh Washington and Jordyn Poulter jokingly bite their gold medals
Jordyn Poulter, right, at the Olympics with teammate Haleigh Washington after their victory over Brazil.
(Gary Ambrose / For The Times)

At last summer’s Olympics in Tokyo, the U.S. women’s volleyball team celebrated a historic victory over Brazil, winning gold medals for the first time.

Less than 10 months later, one of those gold medals is missing after it was stolen from Olympian Jordyn Poulter’s parked car in Anaheim, where the team trains.

For the record:

1:28 p.m. May 31, 2022An earlier version of the photo caption accompanying this post misidentified the athlete on the left as Jordan Thompson. She is Haleigh Washington.

She told police that she had parked the rental car in her garage on Wednesday afternoon and went inside to shower and get ready for a Zoom meeting, leaving the car unlocked and the garage door open.

When she came back later, she saw that someone had rummaged through the car and taken the black shoulder bag that held her passport, which she had left on the passenger seat. The center console, where she had left the gold medal, sat open and empty.

“Obviously, hindsight is 20/20,” Poulter said. “I just really forgot that it was in my car. As silly as that sounds, it is the reality of the situation.”

Poulter, a 24-year-old who plays setter, said her initial reaction was sadly thinking, “Why did I leave the garage open?”

Poulter said for her the medal represents the culmination of not only all the work she has put into the sport but also the sacrifices of many others in building the women’s volleyball program to a pinnacle of achievement. And to have that prized artifact taken away by someone, she said, “is such a bummer.”

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She said she keeps the medal with her to show to friends and family, or to people she meets who ask to see it.

“I’m so happy to share and show and let people hold and wear the medal whenever I can,” Poulter said.

She said she hopes whoever took the medal realizes that trying to pawn it wouldn’t be lucrative.

“It’s not pure gold, so if you try to melt it down, it’s not going to get you very far,” Poulter told reporters on Friday at the team’s training gym in Anaheim. “The inside is made of recycled computer parts and then plated. So it’s not worth much in that sense.”

“It means a lot more to me than I think the monetary value,” she said.

Karch Kiraly, the coach of the Olympic team, said the gold medal could in theory be replaced, but it would be much easier if the person who took it would “out of the goodness of their heart” understand its importance and return it.

“There’s not a ton of value in there. And the huge amount of value is all it represents in this team,” Kiraly said. “The value lies in the experience and the countless hours that anybody puts in to help a team win one of those.”

If someone comes to the Anaheim police to return the medal, Kiraly said, there would be “no questions asked, no consequences.”

“We’re just keeping fingers crossed,” he said. “We’re keeping our hopes up.”

Kiraly pointed out that in another recent case, Paralympian Jen Yung Lee recovered three gold medals after they were snatched in a car break-in in San Antonio.

Poulter, who grew up in Aurora, Colo., said she’s hopeful that whoever took the medal will return it.

She and other members of the Olympic team are about to travel to Shreveport, La., for a tournament where they and their families will attend a banquet on Thursday to celebrate their historic victory. She said she expects that all the other players will bring their medals.

There is a way for an athlete who has a medal stolen to request a replacement from the International Olympic Committee, but it’s a lengthy process, Poulter said.

“Ultimately, if I received a replica medal, somewhere on that medal would print ‘REPLICA’ on it, and it would not have ‘Women’s Volleyball’ engraved on the bottom,” she said. “It for sure is not the same as the original.”

The Anaheim Police Department is asking the public to get in touch with any tips, photos or surveillance video footage. The theft occurred on the 1500 block of East Lincoln Avenue.

“Our big thing is we want to make sure that Jordyn gets her medal back,” Sgt. Jacob Gallacher said. “That medal represents many, many years of blood, sweat, tears and hard work, and it has a lot of value to her personally.”

Police are also checking pawn shops and websites where someone might try to sell the medal, Gallacher said. Anyone who has information to share can contact police or Orange County Crime Stoppers, which accepts anonymous tips, at (855) 847-6227.


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