Jan. 30, 2014 at 5:22 PM ET
Reports of Indian athletes short of funds to compete in the Sochi Olympic Games caused an outpouring of cash from an unlikely source: the community around Dogecoin, a 'cryptocurrency' like Bitcoin that started as a joke but soon became popular enough to be worth real money. Within hours, Dogecoin users had raised more than $6,000 to donate.
India is not in the Olympic Commission's good graces: A year ago the Indian Olympic Association was suspended due to a number of violations, and as a consequence the country's athletes are short on cash and, perhaps more importantly, are forbidden to wear Indian insignia or otherwise formally represent India.
Shiva Keshavan, who plans to compete in the luge, has persevered nevertheless, and while his travel and entry costs have been covered by private donations, the same can't be said for his colleagues, Himanshu Thakur and Nadeem Iqbal — alpine and cross-country skiers, respectively.
Here's where the Dogecoin community stepped up. Hundreds of users of the virtual currency donated, and while each Dogecoin is only worth a fraction of a cent (unlike Bitcoins, each of which is worth hundreds of dollars), they quickly added up.
Before a few hours were out, more than 4 million Dogecoins were collected, equivalent to more than $6,000 (the exact amount depends on a fluctuating exchange rate) — it helped that one anonymous donor gave 3 million of those on his or her own.
Right now the money is still in the Dogecoin Foundation's "wallet," where such virtual currencies are kept, but the people who invented and run Dogecoin assure the community that confirmation of the transaction is forthcoming, as soon as payment details to the athletes can be confirmed.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.