By Emily Thompson | BSU at the Games
Most people come to the Olympic Games for sports. Athletes, coaches, families of athletes, journalists and spectators all make the pilgrimage because of their love for athletics.
But behind this image of the Games exists a subculture of Olympic attendees with ulterior motives.
“Pin trading is the largest non-athletic event at the Games,” trader John Dyck said.
Avid traders travel to each Olympic host city to collect lapel pins from different committees, sports and organizations. Many are members of clubs, like Olympin, the oldest active pin-trading club.
But even those who come to the Games for pin trading do it for different reasons.
Some trade because that’s the only way to get certain pins
John Dyck got his start at Expo ’86, a World’s Fair in his hometown, Vancouver, Canada. He saw kiosks with pins for sale and started asking about them.
“I found out there are some pins you can only get by trading,” he said. “Therein lies the challenge.”
London 2012 marks his fourth Olympic Games, and he plans to go to Sochi, Russia, in 2014 for the Winter Olympic Games. Dyck is also a member of both Olympin and Pacific Pin Club, which is based in Vancouver.
He has amassed approximately 12,000 pins total.
But before he reached this level of success, he had to learn the ropes of pin trading. For example, a rule of thumb in pin trading is that participants only display pins they’re willing to trade.
“I never have a pin out that I’m not willing to let go of,” he said. “Now granted, there are some pins that have a higher value than others. But everything out there is available for trade.”
He also had to learn what to look for in pins.
“The main things we go after are the dated pins,” he said. “So it’s got to say ‘London 2012’ on it.”
Although he’s become quite the pin trader, he insists it’s still a hobby. In fact, he’s a pin-trading purist.
“Unfortunately, there are some individuals who get a bunch of pins at these events and post them on eBay and take the profit,” he said. “And I think that’s wrong, but that’s just my opinion.”
Some trade to show others the ropes
Federico García del Real is from Madrid, Spain, and has been pin trading for 20 years. In that time, he’s traveled to three Olympic host cities: Vancouver, Bejing and now London.
This year, he invited his cousin, Danny García del Real, who’s currently living in London, to come along. This is Danny’s first time trading.
“It’s my first Olympics, but I will go to more because I like it,” Danny said.
The two said they can get 100 to 120 new pins on a good day. Federico estimated that he has 40,000 total.
In addition to showing Danny the ropes of pin trading, Federico said he loves pin trading because it gives him the opportunity to make new friends.
“I love traveling, so it’s a really good way to meet other people,” he said.
Some trade as a conversation starter
Tom Hocutt from Albany, Ga., walked around outside Olympic Park sporting pins on his hat and making balloons for kids—dogs, swords, hats and flowers.
If someone approached him about trading pins, he said, “I’m not a serious pin trader, but I’m willing to trade pins.”
This then gave him the opportunity to strike up a conversation about the organization for which he works, More Than Gold.
“More Than Gold is an organization of Christians that work together with the local churches wherever the Olympics are,” he said. “We go to lots of other sporting events around the world to share what we believe about Jesus Christ.”
He said giving people the chance to start the conversation is more effective than just walking up to people.
“That’s why we do the balloons, and that’s why we do the pins, so that people will approach us.”
More Than Gold even makes its own pins for each Olympic Games. This year’s pin has the organization’s name and a flame that’s made up of the Olympic ring colors. Each color represents something the organization believes, which was explained in a “mini-mag” Hocutt handed out to people.
“So we use that as a way to share the Gospel with people,” he said.
Some trade because they have a ‘collector mentality’
Leonard Braun got into pin trading because of his daughter. She was a competitive swimmer, and some of her swim clubs had their own pins. He started trading a few of her extra pins and soon discovered Olympic sponsor pins.
He was hooked.
“Well, my daughter and I [traded] together,” he said. “So it was actually a lot more fun. She grew up, and I didn’t.”
Braun has attended the last three Winter Olympic Games and every Summer Games since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, his hometown.
Once he reached 20,000 pins, he stopped counting. He said he’s not worried about the number of pins he gets.
“Like any hobby, sometimes when you start off, you tend to be a little compulsive,” he said. “But there’s so many pins now that it’s impossible to get everything. And whatever comes along, comes along, and that’s fine for me.”
One aspect of pin trading he enjoys is meeting new people. When he was in Athens for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, he traded with a woman and later found out she was Queen Sofía of Spain.
“At the Olympics, everybody’s kind of equal, and you don’t know who you’re talking to necessarily,” he said.
When he trades, he wears a gold medal around his neck that says “100-Meter Freestyle Pin Trading.”
“It’s a sport I invented. That’s why I’m the world champion, because I don’t let anyone else compete.
“I’ve actually had a lot of fun with this because sometimes athletes will walk up to me because they think it might be real,” he said. “And then when they read it, they laugh. And I always say, ‘Don’t laugh; my sport is just as hard as yours.’”
In the 28 years he’s been trading, he said a lot has changed.
“It used to be that the International Olympic Committee kind of looked down their nose at what we do, but that changed a number of years ago,” he said. “They actually recognize pin collecting and memorabilia collecting.”
Although his daughter no longer has time for pin trading, his youngest grandson has started to develop an interest in pins.
“I think he’s more interested in Disney pins than he is Olympic pins, though,” he said.
But even if his family doesn’t adopt his pin-trading tendencies, Braun says he plans to stick with his hobby as long as he can.
“If you don’t collect, it’s kind of hard to understand the collector mentality.”
Emily Thompson is a senior magazine journalism major at Ball State University and features reporter for BSU at the Games. Follow Emily and the BSU team at@ekthompson2410, @bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.