I’d just gone through the short and sweet verification process and collected my press ID.
I was now and a part of the thousands of journalists, TV show hosts and writers covering the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. I felt so badass and official that I proudly wore my lanyard everyday, as the card carrying my passport-like photo, name and title, “journalist” dangled around my neck.
I was in reporter heaven!
But soon, I’d realise that I was newbie; a newcomer to the Olympics and not yet a part of the clique. And that’s because my lanyard had no pins!
After the world renowned athletes, the second most popular things at the 2016 Olympic Games (and as I soon learned all Olympic Games) were…THE PINS!
Yes, pins! At first I thought I was seeing things; people were walking around with their lanyards loaded with pins from all over the world, all bearing something “Olympic,” and if you didn’t have any pins then you stuck out like a sore thumb.
I stuck out like a sore thumb.
Thankfully I remembered that a “Team Bahamas” pin came in my package and I quickly snapped it on my lanyard. Almost instantly I was attractive to the other pinheads at the Games. I had something everyone wanted!
Each time I’d enter or leave the Olympic Park, I’d see people huddling around a small, gray-haired man who had thousands of pins lined up on these velvet cushions. The lines would literally stretch with people waiting to get closer to see the merchandise. People kneeling, huddling and focusing as if they were choosing their last meals. I was super confused as to why everyone was so fixated on these pins.
And so I had to introduce myself to the man at the center of this game, the guy who was evidently the pin plug!
He’s Dan Baker, the self-proclaimed senior pin trader for the Olympics.
Dan is from Missouri and says he’s been to 18 consecutive Games for the sole purpose of pin trading.
“For me, I get to take photos with beautiful women all day,” he jokes. “If I didn’t have the pins they’d cross the street when they saw me!”
But I found that hard to believe, as Dan’s striking good looks, wise eyes and quirky sense of humour drew me in instantly.
“The huge pin trade you see all started with the athletes,” he schooled me. “They would first trade things like shirts or hats or bags and then they started having pins; something that was smaller, easier to collect, easier to carry around and a great collectible you can save as a way to remember people you met at the Olympics.
“When you look at this pin you’re going to say, ‘I know who I got that from!’ It’s kind of like a photo and a great way to keep in touch.”
Here’s how the pin trade works: if you see a pin you like you ask the owner for a trade. Based on the size, color, design, the country it represents and what you’re getting in return then you make the swap.
And people at the Olympics were on a pin hunt! Everywhere I went people would look at me with these wanting eyes asking for a trade, asking which pins I had and which ones I wanted.
They really ought to add “pinning” as a new Olympic sport! It’s serious business! The more pins you don on your lanyard, shirt or hat, the more respect you gain and the cooler you look.
I held on to my Bahamas pin for dear life, not wanting to get rid of it until a Japanese journalist offered to barter. His pin was so beautiful and classic looking, I had to have it and with that I made my first pin trade!
Someone was nice enough to give me a pin of Brazil to add to my growing collection.
I was moving on up in the world!
Dan says pins are like currency around the Olympic Games; with athletes, journalists and other workers using them to “purchase” clothing, equipment and even food.
“This is a great way to meet your favorite athletes too,” he adds. “Trust me if an athlete sees you with a pin they want they’re coming up to you and asking for it!”
One of my colleagues told the coolest story of Serena Williams literally calling him out of the stands at one of her matches at the Beijing Games (if I remember correctly) to trade pins!
At the time I met Dan I was still short on pins, so he gave me 3 pins with the Olympic rings and I traded with him a chain with a Bahamian quarter as the charm…I’d say that was a fair deal!
Since then I copped a couple more Olympic pins and even one from Estonia!!!!!
I also learned that sports junkies who visit other sporting events throughout the years use these occasions to also trade and collect pins, so when it’s time for the Olympics, they have a stash! SMART!
And so now that I know how important pins are at the Olympics, it’s game on! I’m thinking that Japan pin I got will bring me some 2020 luck!