By Philip O’Connor
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – Inside the Pyeongchang venues the world’s finest winter sports athletes battle it out for medals, but outside the atmosphere is friendlier as athletes and collectors gather to trade the Olympic pins that are made as mementos of each Games.
Every Olympics attracts enthusiasts like Bob Kalmuk from California who travel to watch the sports, meet people and trade the pins which are created by Olympic teams, sponsors and broadcasters.
“I just got caught up in the Olympic fever back in ’84 in Los Angeles, it just got me hooked,” a shivering Kalmuk said outside the Olympic skating centre in frigid conditions where he has laid out some of his collection of thousands of pins.
“I plan my vacations around going to the games.
“I like the summer games better because it’s warmer,” adds the veteran of 17 Olympic Games.
Kalmuk has brought display books filled with duplicates of pins he is willing to trade for new and in some cases more desirable ones to his collection and the first question he asks everyone is whether or not they have any pins to trade.
“I like pins from different national Olympic committees, I really the ones from Thailand, they were really well-made,” said Kalmuk, who attended the opening ceremony and is planning to watch some of the ice hockey.
“Going back to ’84, there were so many big, beautiful pins. Some are harder to get so you trade two for one on something.”
Though items like Olympic torches and medals can fetch huge sums at sports memorabilia auctions, the value of Olympic pins is mostly sentimental.
Helpful local volunteers are often rewarded for their efforts with a pin which is then worn on the lanyard holding their accreditation.
Many athletes, like American figure skater Mirai Nagasu, are also keen to take home as many as they can.
“It’s a long-time tradition, and we’re also given pins to trade and it gives us an opportunity to meet pin collectors and to trade with other athletes as well,” Nagasu told Reuters as she inspected the pins of Kalmuk and the other traders.
“In the village this Olympics, there’s actually a pin quest game, you can collect Olympic pins. It’s kind of like Olympic pins and (TV game show) ‘Jeopardy’ at the same time.”
The 24-year-old Nagasu won bronze in the team figure skating and while the pins she trades may be less valuable, she is no less enthusiastic about them, even if she is not sure what she is going to do with them.
“Maybe I’ll display them,” she said as she traded two U.S. Olympic pins for a Harry Potter badge with another collector.
“I like to keep them on my lanyard — I mean, this credential becomes something special, that’s something cool to have.
“It’s a cool tradition that only the Olympics has, I think every country participates and you get to collect pins from different countries, and it’s a chance to meet with other people.”
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)