The Chairs of Rio's Olympic Champions Have a Secret Second Life

Can we interest you in a 40-foot shipping container full of lightly used beds from the athletes' village?

Those chairs where Simone Biles waited to learn her gold-medal scores in Rio could be destined for a party-planning company or a school.

Photographer: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Next time you feel you're moldering in your office chair, consider that it may secretly have a glamorous history. 

Since well before the Rio Olympics began, an Australian company has been lining up second homes for the 135,000 chairs, 350 portable massage beds, 900 bar stools, 20,000 beds, 102,000 electrical items, 600 small safes—even the 2,500 stainless steel trash cans—that experienced brief moments of glory (or infamy) in the athletes' village and venues. 

But if you want a white plastic folding chair Michael Phelps may have glowered in, you'll have to take a full 40-foot container load of chairs. And you'll have competition from companies around the world that often buy the goods for resale. On Wednesday, for example, with one day left in the three-day auction period, there were 14 bids—with $5,136 the highest shown—for a lot of 4,000 of those chairs valued at $76,000. (That top bid would mean $1.28 per chair.)

on June 23, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Facilities at the Olympic athletes' village on June 23.

Photographer: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Rio is the sixth Olympic Games for which RGS Events, a family-owned company in Melbourne, Australia, has provided and disposed of fixtures, furniture, and equipment, starting with Sydney in 2000. This year it's partnering with U.S. online liquidator B-Stock Solutions to get rid of some of the goods. The majority of buyers who've bid on the site to "Buy a Piece of the Rio 2016 Olympics" have been from the U.S., but sales have also been made to buyers in Australia, Canada, Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and the United Kingdom, said Howard Rosenberg, B-Stock's chief executive. 

Many products used for those 17 highly televised days eventually go to party-rental companies, furniture resellers, schools, janitorial companies, and event-planning outfits—plus "scrappy entrepreneurial types" who go out and make a market for the items, said Rosenberg. He said "hundreds of 40-foot containers of stuff" have been sold. Paul Ramler, chief executive of RGS Events, said more than 90 percent of the 1.3 million or so items from Rio have been spoken for.

Michael Phelps of the United States exits the pool deck after the medal ceremony on Aug. 13.

Michael Phelps exits the pool deck after the medal ceremony Saturday. That folding chair could be yours.

Photographer: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Some of the products wind up at other major sporting events. Many from the 2012 London Olympics, for instance, spent 16 months stored in 400 40-foot containers at the port in Grangemouth, Scotland, before being used in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, said Ramler.

After Glasgow, some of those products took part in the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England. Then, RGS donated more than 2 million British pounds worth of well-traveled sofas, wardrobes, bean bags, and more to needy families in Glasgow. 

Some of the Rio furniture could be used for other sports events in South America, Ramler said; the company is in talks with the Buenos Aires Youth Olympics. Some products will go to a large Brazilian office furniture retailer, Shopping Matriz. Ideally, some of that inventory would have been used in another event RGS is working on, the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia, but storage for two years cost too much to make that feasible, Ramler added.

There is one thing Ramler did hang onto from one high-profile sporting event: a chair bearing the royal insignia that the Queen of England sat on in the Royal box at the Melbourne 2016 Commonwealth Games.

"It would be a bit tacky if we put it up on eBay," he said.

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