The Sport of Olympic Pinning

by Elizabeth Freeman on 08/16/2016 | 3 Minute Read

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Team USA is currently in Rio competing to take home as many medals as possible, but there’s another way to strike gold at the Olympic Games: pin trading. What started out at the 1896 games in Athens as a way to identify athletes, judges, and officials has morphed into an integral part of the Olympic experience.

As you walk around the Olympic Park from stadium to stadium, you’ll see vendors set up with pins on display and covering every square inch their hats and lanyards. Every year brings a slew of different pin designs from a wide variety of sources, but surprisingly many of these pins aren’t for sale. The only way to get the pins you truly want is to trade.

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Olympic pin trading is more than just a hobby that the pin-heads (as they’re lovingly called) engage in. Volunteers trade pins with media members, media members swap pins with athletes, athletes exchange with media members, and media members barter with event attendees. Even for those who go to one event only, it’s undeniably difficult to resist the the excitement of scouring through pin collections and bartering. Pin trading may come from the sheer desire to get a particular pin or to even trade for an event ticket, but most take part because they simply enjoy it.As Tim Jamieson, a collector with 30,000 pins and counting told The New York Times, 

“It’s a great way to travel and meet people.”

The very nature of pin trading focuses on human connection and creating lasting memories of the games beyond athletic competitions and medal ceremonies.

Hundreds of new pins appear every two years for the games, including ones from Olympic sponsors, participating countries, certain sports, the Olympic mascots, and the press and media. Some are more coveted than others, depending on availability and current trends. Rarer pins—ones that have been produced in smaller quantities or that represent countries with a smaller Olympic team—are naturally harder to come by and more desired.

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This year’s hot pin comes from TV Tokyo, a news and media outlet from Japan. It doesn’t feature any Olympian or particular sport—simply a smiling Pikachu with two colorful maracas. Pikachu has appeared on TV Tokyo’s Olympic pins since the 2000 games in Sydney, but due to the insane popularity of Pokémon GO it’s the one that everyone wants to catch. TV Tokyo has reportedly already given away their 2,000 freebie pins, but for fans in Rio who find themselves in the right place at the right time (and with the right pin to trade), it could be possible to take home the gold.

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