Three gold medals have been stolen from the Arizona home of former Olympic swimmer Melissa Belote, who won them as a 15-year-old at the 1972 games in Munich.
Belote, now 53, normally kept the medals in a safety-deposit box, but had put them underneath clothes in a dresser drawer at her Tempe home after taking them to an elementary school for a presentation.
Tempe police Sgt. Steve Carbajal said Thursday that one or more thieves broke into Belote's home sometime during the day Wednesday by prying open a back window. They stole the medals, an iPod, some cash, and jewelry, but left other things like computers and TVs.
Belote, who now coaches children and teens in swim, told The Associated Press on Thursday that when she found out her medals were taken, she "wept like a baby."
"I'm just sick about the whole thing," she said. "My medals are the culmination of a journey I started as a young girl with a dream to just get in the water and swim."
The medals also represent the sacrifices of everyone who helped her get to the Olympics, Belote said.
"It's not just, 'Hey, I swam fast and got a gold medal,'" she said. "Even though they're materialistic possessions, there are so few gold medals in the world, and it's something I could give my children that they could give their children. It's something very special that few people in the world can pass on, and now it's gone."
The medals are engraved with Belote's name, have Munich and two Xs on them to represent the 20th Olympiad. Belote, who grew up in Springfield, Va., was an All-America swimmer at Arizona State University and was named the nation's top college swimmer in 1977.
Belote said she's considering offering a reward for the safe return of her medals.
"I don't care if they take them to a library, to a school, to a fire station," she said. "I just hope to get them back."