Noah Chamberlain: The Olympic pin – one small item that can tell a hundred big stories...

Tuesday, 08 May 2012
Noah Chamberlain_-_Honav_5_May_12Many of us have treasure boxes where we stash our souvenirs of life's precious moments. It may be an old shoebox in the attic or a spare space at the back of a drawer. Contents probably include awards, greeting cards, special event tickets and even oddments such as locks of hair, sentimental gifts and other symbols of special times, people and places.

Whatever the container or location, for those who have been lucky enough to attend an Olympic Games, there will always be a collection of Olympic pins in the mix.

Most Olympians, whether they attained an Olympic medal or not, will have their participation pin stashed alongside those gifted from their fellow competitors or new friends made.

Ask any Olympic journalist and they will all have a few tucked away that represent their time in an Olympic city, each having a story to tell. Games volunteers treasure their official workforce pin and the many others gifted from visitors as thank-yous for their hard work in delivering the Games, usually still attached to their accreditation lanyards.

Inside the Movement, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members fine gold wire Five Ring Member pin remains a treasure for all, along with those exchanged by the many they have had contact with during their tenure.

The stories of the exchanges and circumstances that resulted in these small metal symbols becoming emblems of special times are as varied as the hundreds of thousands of designs that have been produced in the 100 years of Olympic spectator pins. In May 1912 the first spectator pin – a pure silver stick pin – was produced and offered for sale for the Stockholm Games.

In celebration of this 100th anniversary, we have compiled a few stories that demonstrate the significance of these small yet important pieces of metal and enamel that accompany every Olympic Games and hope to add to these with your pin experiences.

In Atlanta 1996, a Sydney 2000 Games employee was visiting the Reebok athlete outfitting centre. A proud and rather sombre lady standing across the huge tent was pointed out as one of Nadia Comaneci's coaches. Without thinking, the naive and highly enthusiastic Australian bounded across the area to gift a Sydney pin. "Please, Madam, promise you will come to the Sydney Games," she blurted, having been inspired most of her life by that achieved by the outstanding Romanian Olympian and her support team.

london 2012_pin_09-05-12
She was somewhat disappointed at the rather cold response and returned to her delegation undaunted and simply pleased to have shaken the hand of the wind beneath Nadia's wings.

A few minutes later as she was leaving, she received a tap on the shoulder and turned to see that Madam was standing there along with an interpreter who explained, "Madam was very embarrassed when you presented her with your kind and generous gift. The coaches of her team were not issued with any pins for these Games and she had nothing to offer you in return. However, she would like to give you this along with the promise that she will try to come to Sydney."

In Madam's hand was a woven cloth badge of her country's emblem, and glancing at the coach's jacket the Aussie noticed the remains of the stitches on the pocket where this identity was formerly attached. Hugs were exchanged, thank-yous shared through the interpreter, and this little piece of cloth became a much loved treasure and a symbol of the Olympic Spirit.

In Albertville 1992, a Games volunteer turning up for their first day on the job was embarrassed to be offered a pin from a tiny little Argentinian girl. She did not yet have any pins to offer in return. Undaunted the little princess rugged up warm against the biting cold simply smiled and in pidgin French replied, "A smile is all I ask".

Patricia Rosenbrock-Coles, wife of Australian IOC Member Phil Coles, reported without hesitation that one of her favourite pins was issued in Lillehammer at the sponsor hospitality facility. The Lillehammer 1994 emblem is embellished with the quirky statement of fact "I visited the Sponsor Loos" – no further explanation needed.

A pilot of the United Nations stationed in North West Africa purchased some Sydney 2000 pins at Sydney airport on his way back to his tour of duty. One day when ferrying a West African dignitary he offered up a pin as a gift. When returning to collect him two days later he was somewhat astounded to find a sheep and goat tethered at the side of the runway as a return thank-you. It remains to this day one of the most unusual pin trades reported.
Nagano 1998_Snowlet_curling_pin_5_May_12
Olympic pins are not only produced for the Games but also surrounding Olympic-related happenings and milestones. Speak to anyone on the Salzburg 2014 Winter Games Olympic Bid and they will confess that the Salzburg logo pin, with the words "thank you" attached, that was issued to them for their efforts, although unsuccessful, remains a bittersweet memento.

A group of Atlanta 1996 sponsors dining out in Barcelona during the 1992 Games jokingly enquired of their waiter how many drinks could be bought for an Atlanta Olympic pin. The friendly Catalan thought about it for a moment and scurried away. They were shocked when he returned with seven large jugs of sangria, one for each guest in return for a single pin. At the 1995 test events for the Atlanta Games, a group of Australian sponsors claimed they exceeded this trade with 13 margaritas for a single Sydney bid pin. This ongoing competition among Games and the unofficial currency value of Olympic pins continues although most of the claims cannot (or should not) be verified.

From Olympic truck pins whose wheels rotate to pins that swivel to tell a story, from countdown days to Ceremonies, Games-specific roles and venues, such as broadcast, Olympic Villages, hospitality and catering through to National Olympic Committee Emblems. The list of Olympic stories and favourite designs is almost endless. From pins that project humour to graphics commemorating moments, attendance, achievements or simply the small offerings given in return for Olympic pins, the tradition continues.

Nominations received for the most popular designs to date include: the Lillehammer 1994 anti-doping pin, sleeps to go for Sydney 2000, the Swatch Atlanta 1996 mini-watch pin collection, the Rio 2016 3D gold staff pin, the London 2012 gender pin (pictured above), the Beijing 2008 ethnic collection and the Nagano 1998 Snowlet curling pin (pictured above).

What is your favourite pin or pin story? In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Olympic spectator pins, we want to hear your anecdotes or simply your favourite design.

To celebrate insidethegames' partnership with pin manufacturers Honav UK, insidethegames and insidegamescollecting are giving readers the opportunity to win a collection of stunning London 2012 pins by entering our exclusive competition; My Favourite Pin Story. For more details click here.

Honav logoNoah Chamberlain works for Honav UK, the exclusive licensee of commemorative lapel pins for London 2012.
comments powered by Disqus