Drop it, flog it, give to your dog... but just don't lose your Olympic medal!

Charlie Cooper on the stars who had their medals stolen – and the extreme measures others take to keep theirs safe

Imagine if the sum of your life's greatest efforts was contained in a small metal disc. Not in a bank account, or in a house, or in your genetic legacy – just a metal disc. Where would you put it? What would you do with it? How much money would you sell if for? For Olympic medallists, it is a genuine dilemma. This week, Team GB bronze medallists Alex Partridge and Hannah Macleod had their medals stolen at a club in Mayfair.

Macleod, a hockey player, said she was "devastated", while Partridge, a rower, spoke movingly of the meaning athletes invest in their medals

"I always say to people, it's not about the medal, it's about the journey," he said. "It was only when I picked up my 16-month-old daughter from nursery that it dawned on me. If it doesn't come back, she won't see everything I worked for."

Yesterday, a 29-year-old man was arrested in connection with the theft at the Mahiki nightclub on Tuesday night, where Partridge, Macleod and fellow Olympians were celebrating after a reception at Buckingham Palace in honour of their achievements at London 2012.

While Partridge and Macleod will be waiting anxiously for news of their medals' return, not every Olympian guards their prize so jealously. Many have even sold their medals at auction, where an Olympic gold can fetch thousands of pounds.

The Ukrainian super-heavyweight boxer Wladimir Klitschko auctioned his gold from Atlanta 1996 for $1m – all of which he donated to the children's sports charity he set up with his brother Vitali, another champion boxer.

Closer to home, Olympians can be more careless. The decathlete Daley Thompson gave two training buddies his two Olympic golds from Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984, while Jessica Ennis has tweeted a picture of her own gold medal – won on that famous night in August – draped around the neck of her pet Labrador dog, Myla.

If Daley Thompson, or any Olympic medallist, were to decide they wanted a replacement, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does provide a duplication service for lost or damaged prizes. However, copied medals are engraved with the word "Replica", so once an original Olympic medal is gone, it really is gone.

"We typically get one or two requests for replacements every year," said Andrew Mitchell, of the IOC. "The Olympic medals mean a lot to thousands of athletes and millions of fans around the world. We would hope that they are treated in the way that all these people would expect."

The only other report of a medal missing or damaged from London 2012 came from Brazil's bronze-winning judoka Felipe Kitadai – whose story serves as a salutary lesson to all Olympians who claim they will never part from their medal.

"I took it with me everywhere," he said. "I even took it in the shower. But I was afraid to get it wet so I put it in my mouth while I soaped myself. But it ended up slipping."

The men's 60kg category medal was dented and its ribbon broken. The Brazilian Olympic Committee has requested a replacement.

Other medals have more auspicious fate. Mo Farah had his twin gold medals engraved with the names of his twin daughters, Aisha and Amani, born days after his 5,000m victory in August. But the most famous afterlife of an Olympic medal belongs to Muhammad Ali's light-heavyweight gold, which he won at Rome 1960. Ali claims that, having worn the medal every day since winning, he hurled it into the Ohio River after being refused service at a whites-only restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky.

For lessons in holding on to their medals, winners can look to Britain's greatest Olympian. "I'm often travelling the world racing and training the worst case scenario would be to get burgled. So I keep mine in a bank," the cycling champion Sir Chris Hoy has told the BBC.

"I take them out every now and then for events. It's quite nice to see them for a while and dust them down."

Golden moments: Missing mementoes

Nobby Stiles

Eight of the 11 men who won the World Cup for England in 1966 have sold their medals. The most recent, Nobby Stiles, saw his go to his old club, Man Utd, for £188,200 in 2010.

Arsène Wenger

Judging by Arsenal's recent form, you may have thought their manager would be more careful about holding on to past glories. However, Wenger claims he does not know where his four FA Cup medals are.

Lawrence Taylor

The former NFL line-backer gave his son, TJ, the Super Bowl ring he won when his New York Giants beat Buffalo Bills in 1991. TJ sold the ring in May for £140,000.