Sports fans who want a piece of the Olympic flame are paying red-hot prices on eBay, as people who participated in the relay heading toward Salt Lake City put their torches up for bid.
In recent weeks, sellers on eBay have listed about 20 torches used in the Olympic relay heading toward Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Games. About eight of the auctions are still open, but fans should be prepared to pay a price for the memento: Bidding has routinely reached more than $2,000 a torch, and one bidder offered $6,100 in an auction for a torch and a souvenir jacket
Margarita Volker, an interior designer from Huntington Beach, Calif., has bid on two torches. An Olympics fan who has attended eight Games and already owns relay torches used in Games in Atlanta, Mexico City and Munich, Volker said she started her collection after seeing the torch run at the Nagano Games in Japan.
"It was such a great feeling to see" the torch relay, she said. "I thought it would be great to own one."
The Salt Lake City Games open Feb. 8. The torch relay began last month in Atlanta, the last U.S. city to host an Olympics. Some 11,500 torches are being used in this relay, according to relay spokeswoman Lindsay Rowles. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee chose relay participants out of a pool of more than 200,000 nominations.
The committee is selling the torches to relay participants for $335 each. About 85 percent to 90 percent of torchbearers have purchased their torches, Rowles said. The other relay participants simply returned their torches to the committee.
Rowles said the committee isn't bothered by the torch sales on eBay. In fact, the committee itself turned to the auction site last year to offer tickets for the 2002 Winter Games.
"Our stand is it's their torches. Once they purchase them, they can do what they wish with them," she said, noting that only a small percentage of participants sell their torches.
Austin, Texas, resident Richard Walker joined the torch relay after he was nominated by his daughter. Although Walker said he felt honored to be chosen for the relay, he didn't want to keep the torch.
He said he decided to auction it on eBay because he thought it would fetch a fair price. With three days left in his auction, Walker's torch has received eight bids, the highest for $1,580.
"I'm not much of a sports fan," Walker said. "I probably won't spend a lot of time watching the Olympics.
"There are people who would love to have this thing, and why shouldn't they?"
Nicholas Wolaver, a public-relations account executive in Atlanta, is among those eager for a Salt Lake City Olympics torch. Wolaver has already bid in five torch auctions but says the prices had exceeded his budget.
Wolaver said he carried a torch in the relay for the Atlanta games and wants to add to his collection.
"I'm kind of an Olympic buff," he said. "I was pretty sentimental about my torch."