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
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Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.