I have hinted at it.
I have mentioned it.
But I have not really delved into the subplot bubbling under my Sochi Olympics experience.
That would be pin trading.
Perhaps you have never heard of it. I know I had never heard of it until I arrived at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Within a few days, a collection of uniquely dressed gentleman had set up long, pin-filled tables outside the International Broadcast Center.
But pin trading is a phenomenon. Athletes, sponsors, and media members arrive at the Olympics with pins representing whoever their country, company, or publication. When two people of differing Olympic backgrounds have a pleasant conversation, they conclude it by exchanging pins.
At least, that is the theory.
But typically, it works a little differently. Some people simply do not care about the practice. Some maybe care too much, eyeing others’ pin chains with hawk-like tendencies. And some simply do it for the sport; they like to inject a little “Let’s make a deal” undercurrent to the Olympic grind.
I probably combine all three mentalities.
But mostly, I simply want a good story.
When I decide which pins to keep and which to trade, I think about how I got them. I like a rare pin, for sure, and I like one that represents a country or company to which I am partial, but mostly I like the one that reminds me of a friendly Olympic encounter.
Here are some of the stories behind my favorite pins of 2014:
These two pins were among the first I obtained. During our second day, while shooting stories in the mountains, I happened to interview an Irish alpine skier and an Icelandic volunteer within five minutes of each other. I was pleasantly surprised by both interactions: the skier, because I was surprised an Olympic athlete would even chat with us, and the volunteer, because I love and have visited Iceland and enjoyed that connection.
I learned of this pin from several colleagues, who claimed that the Swiss media area had a candy bowl of pins right at its entrance. I had thus far been unsuccessful in finding a pin shaped like a Matryoshka doll, and this one fit the bill. A co-worker and I found the Swiss section, and sure enough, the candy bowl awaited.
Most of us NBC folks found immediate trading partners in our colleagues from different cities. I collected a bunch, but I only kept one: the snowboard pin from KSL-TV in Salt Lake City. Just a great idea, and we Atlanta folks will need to step up our games for future Olympics.
If I do have a weak spot with pins, it’s for pins of the future. I have so far tried and failed to obtain the gaudy pin for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, but I have found pins for the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea and the 2010 Summer Games in Tokyo. Six years in the future is, I think, about as good as it gets.
Finally, I could not leave without finding a pin from the 1996 Summer Games. I did not live in Atlanta then, but I love the city now, and I take pride in its big accomplishments. The ’96 Games surely count, and for the second straight Olympics, I found an item to commemorate them. (I had to go to a pin trader for this one, but I got a great deal.)
In less than a week, the Sochi Games will end. The stories will sift away through the holes in my memory. And I will return to a world where pin trading is mostly a foreign concept.
I hope these pins will serve as mental cues to some cool Olympic moments.
FOR MORE ON MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: A different view of USA-Russia
FOR MORE ON MY OLYMPICS JOURNEY: 10 observations after 2 weeks
FOLLOW THE TELLING THE STORY BLOG ON TWITTER!
SUBSCRIBE TO THE TELLING THE STORY PODCAST ON ITUNES!
Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at email@example.com.