Every four years, multiple storylines surrounding the Olympics capture the attention of sports fans who learn a little more about the fascinating world we live in.
For the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the public has learned about the chaotic political crisis of Brazil, the inequality of the favelas and the millionaire neighborhoods located on opposite sides of the megacity, and the imposing statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking everything.
At Rio 2016, an Olympic story that unfolds every four years is finally coming to light. This story involves the tiny and colorful Olympic pins that people sometimes get to see adorning the warm-up suits of the athletes, the business suits of the television anchors, or the work uniforms of the event staff. Olympics pins are highly collectible items that are constantly traded around the world; however, the swapping frenzy reaches its apex during the Summer Games themselves.
The Allure of Olympic Pins
It is believed some sort of souvenir trading took place during the Olympiads of ancient Greece. Instead of pins, athletes may have traded seashells or decorative stones. The final Olympics of the 19th century featured three sets of official pins. By the time Nazi Germany hosted the Summer Games on the eve of World War II, the Third Reich recognized that pins could be mass produced for propaganda purposes.
Fast forward quite a few decades to Rio de Janeiro, where Olympic pin trading has become an economic microcosm. Olympic pins are like currency these days; collectively, crates of pins are brought by athletic teams, organizers, sponsors, and collectors. Even more numerous are the pins made by the local sponsors in Rio.
Olympic pins are small tokens of celebration. They can be made in honor of a sport, an Olympic team, an event, or an occasion. The unspoken rule is that anyone who holds massive amounts of pins should be generous with them; a Brazilian bank that serves Rio de Janeiro made mountains of pins to give to tourists as keepsakes. Once countries start stacking up medals or making headlines, the pins become more highly sought after.
Pin Bartering Etiquette at the Olympics
Just like stamp or coin collecting, Olympic pin trading can be fun, interesting, addictive, and even obsessive. The highlight is to actually trade during the Summer Games in the host city; this experience surpasses attending a major trade expo because, after all, history is being written.
Although pins are bought and sold at the Olympics, this is a faux pas that should not take place to begin with. There is a difference between a bartender who dispenses a free beer in exchange for a cool pin than a collector who demands cold hard cash. Even though such transactions are inevitable, they should take place behind close doors.
As with any other activity that involves collecting items, Olympic pins are subject to rarity and the stories that surround them. At Rio 2016, a coveted pin was rumored to be one brought by Japanese journalists; the pin in question depicted a Pikachu character from Pokemon. Apparently, only a few dozen Pikachu pins were made. Even more coveted pins were those of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which featured competitors from the old Soviet Union.