Whatever happened to Muhammad Ali's torch, other Olympic artifacts?

The 2016 Olympics are about to begin in Rio de Janeiro, and history is sure to be made. This got us thinking about some of the most famous moments in Olympic history and the memorabilia associated with them. With that in mind, here's a look at some rare, valuable and historic Olympic artifacts and what happened to those pieces after their time in the spotlight:

Muhammad Ali's torch

The identity of the person who would light the Olympic cauldron at the 1996 Games in Atlanta was a closely guarded secret. When legendary boxer and activist Muhammad Ali emerged to perform the act, an indelible Olympic moment took place.

But whatever happened to the torch Ali used in Atlanta?

Appropriately, it resides at the Muhammad Ali Center museum in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky -- and it's definitely the original item.

"It's on loan to the Ali Center from the Ali family," said Casey Harden, manager of collections at the Ali Center. "It came directly to the Ali Center from Lonnie and Muhammad Ali."

The torch is essentially on permanent display at the museum, although it's currently under wraps until a partial remodel of the museum is completed next month.

It's undoubtedly an iconic artifact, a one-of-a-kind item symbolic of the man who is arguably the most famous athlete in history. If the Ali family ever decided to part with the torch, it likely would command an extraordinary price on the open market.

"It's what I call a moments piece," said Chris Ivy, who oversees the sports collectibles division at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions. "Everyone remembers those types of pieces. I would say the minimum would be $500,000, but no number would surprise me."

The Ali Center also possesses a number of items commemorating the boxer winning the light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics. It was that Olympic moment, when he still was known by his birth name of Cassius Clay, which vaulted him into the national spotlight.

"We have his replacement gold medal that he received at the 1996 Olympics," Harden said. "It was the medal to replace his 1960 gold medal that, to this day, nobody really knows what happened to it. It was given to him by the [second] basketball Dream Team at the '96 Olympics."

The story of Ali's lost 1960 gold medal is one of great debate. Ali wrote in his 1975 autobiography, "The Greatest: My Own Story," that he threw the medal into the Ohio River not long after the Games, furious after being refused service at a segregated Louisville restaurant. The story has never been definitively confirmed or refuted, but Ali never backtracked on his account.

Miracle on Ice memorabilia

The "Miracle on Ice" feat of the 1980 U.S. hockey team, which stunned the heavily favored Soviets on its way to the gold medal, is forever etched in American sports history.

For the right price, fans and collectors have been able to obtain a piece of that history.

Last year, U.S. goalie Jim Craig offered 19 items from the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games for sale in a single lot for $5.7 million. The lot didn't sell, and Craig instead parted with many of them earlier this year in a Lelands auction. The mask he wore throughout the tournament sold for $137,849.16. The stick he used against the U.S.S.R. and in the gold-clinching game against Finland fetched $60,653.65. Craig's game-used pads and a game-used blocker sold for $23,033.20 each, and his game-used skates went for $17,569.20.

Four prized pieces of Craig's collection -- his gold medal, the white jersey he wore in the U.S.S.R. game, the blue jersey he wore in the Finland game and the U.S. flag he wore on his shoulders after clinching gold -- failed to meet reserve prices and went unsold.

Several items from team captain Mike Eruzione commanded even higher prices in a 2013 Heritage event: the white jersey worn in U.S.S.R. game ($657,250), the blue jersey worn in the gold-clinching game against Finland ($286,800) and the stick he used to score the winning goal against the U.S.S.R. ($262,900). The auction included all but one item Eruzione kept from Lake Placid.

"It was his entire collection -- except for his gold medal," Heritage's Chris Ivy said.

Heritage also handled the sales of the gold medals from team members Mark Wells ($310,700 in 2010) and Mark Pavelich ($262,900 in 2014). A ring presented to coach Herb Brooks with five diamonds in the shape of the Olympic rings logo fetched $113,525 in 2015.

Jesse Owens' gold medal

American sprinter Jesse Owens unforgettably stole the spotlight at the 1936 Berlin Games, which German dictator Adolf Hitler intended to use as a propaganda festival, by winning gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump and 4x100-meter relay.

The whereabouts of three of those medals are unknown. Owens gave the fourth to entertainer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and the estate of Robinson's widow put it up for auction in 2013. (A replacement set of Owens' four gold medals is kept at Ohio State, where he competed from 1933-36.)

There was worldwide media coverage when the item went up for sale, owing to its historical significance, and SCP Auctions accepted 30 bids. California investor Ron Burkle, a co-owner of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, made the top offer and acquired the medal for $1,466,574.

Michael Jordan's Air Jordans

The original Dream Team might be the greatest assembly of athletic talent in history. That 1992 U.S. men's basketball team rolled to the gold medal in Barcelona. With 11 future Hall of Famers on its roster, the Dream Team's average margin of victory was a gaudy 43.8 points.

The unquestioned star was Michael Jordan, even as he played alongside the legendary Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Additionally, the Nike Air Jordan sneaker line has inspired a legion of its own collectors over the years. So it was a big deal when Dream Team physician David Fischer put a number of collectibles up for auction through Heritage earlier this year, including a game-used pair of Air Jordans from the Barcelona Games autographed by Jordan.

The winning bid came in at $52,580.

That beat the $38,187.50 an autographed white mesh jersey worn by Jordan at the 1992 Games went for in a sale by Robert Edward Auctions in 2007.

Michael Phelps' swim cap

American swimmer Michael Phelps stands as the most decorated athlete in Olympics history. He enters the 2016 Games with 22 career medals -- 18 gold, two silver and two bronze.

It was at Beijing in 2008 that he made his biggest mark, winning an unprecedented eight golds in a single Games. The feat eclipsed the legendary performance of Mark Spitz, the American who captured seven swimming golds in 1972.

Phelps earned his eighth gold in Beijing in the 400-meter medley relay, swimming the butterfly leg for the Americans. He autographed the swim cap he wore in that race, and it went up for auction in April 2011. The winning bid came in at $19,120.

Dominique Dawes' leotard

As one might expect, the Smithsonian Institute houses a bounty of athletic memorabilia, including dozens of items from the Olympics.

Perhaps the most notable piece is a leotard worn by Dominique Dawes at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. She captured gold as a member of the U.S. women's team that won the all-around competition and became the first African-American gymnast to win an individual medal by earning bronze in the floor exercise.

A sampling of other Olympic uniforms in the Smithsonian collection:

  • A leotard worn by gymnast Nastia Liukin when she won gold in the all-around at the 2008 Beijing Games.

  • A jersey worn during by soccer player Mia Hamm at the 1996 Atlanta Games, where the U.S. women won the gold medal.

  • A skin suit worn by speedskater Bonnie Blair when she won gold in the 500 and 1,000 meters at the 1992 Albertville Games.

  • A jersey worn by U.S. hockey player Bill Baker during the "Miracle on Ice" run to gold at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

Unclaimed 1972 basketball silver medals

One of the most infamous results in Olympic history occurred when the U.S.S.R. upset the U.S. 51-50 in the gold medal game of the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The Soviets benefited from a controversial call in the final seconds, and the U.S. failed to win the basketball gold for the first time. The Americans then refused to accept their silver medals in protest.

Those Olympic artifacts remain unclaimed to this day and sit in a vault at the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. For the medals to be awarded, members of the team or their surviving relatives must agree unanimously to accept them. That is almost certainly not going to happen, as team captain Kenny Davis maintains a hard line on the issue. In his 2014 book, "Better Than Gold," Davis wrote that his will contains a provision insisting his family never accept the silver medals.

While many of the items on this list can be considered priceless, members of the 1972 U.S. basketball team might consider these medals worthless.

1952 Helsinki torches

The journey of the Olympic flame from Greece to the host site is an enduring piece of imagery. The relay was first held in 1936, and several thousand torches were manufactured for that year's event and for most of the subsequent Games.

However, only 22 were produced for the 1952 Helsinki Summer Games, making those torches rare and valuable. One fetched £420,000 (approximately $650,000 U.S. at the time) at a Sotheby's London auction in May 2015. Another Helsinki torch, one that didn't have its original burner, was bought at a Paris auction for more than £260,000 (approximately $420,000 U.S. at the time) in February 2011.

"It's missing by most collectors who seek a full set," Southern California-based memorabilia auctioneer Ingrid O'Neil said. "Most of the Helsinki torches are in museums, and they don't get out to collectors."

Similarly, only 95 torches were produced for the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympics. One sold for $71,700 at a Heritage Auctions event at New York in February 2015. Also notable was the July 2015 sale of a torch carried by Bruce Jenner in the relay to the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Heritage sold that item for $23,900 in a Chicago auction.

1904 gold medals

After competitions in Athens and Paris, the Olympics were staged outside Europe for the first time in 1904, when the Games accompanied the World's Fair in St. Louis.

Although it was the third Olympiad, it marked the first time gold, silver and bronze medals were given to the top three competitors in each event. Only 78 gold medals were presented in St. Louis, so it's no surprise that collectors noticed when one became available in May 2013. A medal originally owned by U.S. runner George Underwood, a member of the winning 4-mile relay team, fetched $38,837.50 in a Heritage Auctions sale.

Two 1904 golf medals won by American H. Chandler Egan, a team gold and the individual silver, were recently found by Egan's grandson among family possessions and are currently on display at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida.

1896 marathon trophy

When the first modern Olympics were held in 1896, the marathon was a centerpiece event recalling Greek history at the Athens Games.

The winner, Spyros Louis of Greece, was awarded a unique silver cup that stands six inches tall. The marathon was the only event that merited the cup, as the winners of all other events received medals. Louis became a national figure in Greece, and his grandson eventually sold the cup in April 2012 at a Christie's auction in London.

A Greek foundation paid £541,250 (approximately $865,000 U.S. at the time) for the item -- approximately £400,000 more than was expected. It subsequently was exhibited at the famed Acropolis Museum in Athens and the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. It's now displayed permanently at the newly built Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Kallithea, Greece.