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Pinning away

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Latest: Wednesday September 13, 2000 02:53 PM


Welcome to the Olympic pin-trading center in Darling Harbour. They tell me it's practically pindemonium in this large tent, where the currency of the Games is traded, sold, bartered and evaluated with the most discerning eyes and wallets. Pins are passing from hand to hand all over Sydney. Athletes and officials trade their National Olympic Committee pins at the Olympic village. Sponsors have pins. Media outlets, including Sports Illustrated, have them. SOCOG, the Games' organizing committee, commissions pins with logos, flags, mascots, stick-figures of sports and combinations thereof. The pin trading center is a sort of confluence of pin prices, pin styles, pin trading ethics and a lot of people who would not otherwise have known the meaning of cloisonné. Some are here for work, others for pleasure, all for a deal. Here are some of their stories:

Jody Sanders of Atlanta is in town with her husband Barry. They have owned the memorabilia store Atlanta Sports Collectibles since 1982. The costs of handling, shipping and dealing will run the Sanders family about $20,000 in Sydney. Their trapezoidally shaped table, two feet long on one side, three feet on another, with about a two-foot width, costs her $500 to rent for the duration of the Games. "If we recoup everything here it would be a bonus," Jody says. "An experience like this makes it worth losing money.

"The Olympics changed our business as much as you could hope," she says. "The baseball strike just about put us under. The Olympics saved us." The Sanders had four stations set up during the Atlanta Games. "We gave one table to our son," she says. "We told him we would give him $100 a day or 10 percent of the gross for each day. The first day he took $100. After that he took the percentage. I think his table made $150,000 during the Games." Sanders confesses she doesn't have much of an emotional tie to specific pins. "We decided a long time ago we couldn't be both collectors and businessmen," she says. "The most precious things for us are the experiences."

Charlie Brooke of Washington, D.C., is trading as I approach him. "This is an American dealing with an Australian," he tells me, "so we have a language problem. He doesn't want five of these for three of those and two of those." Brooke describes Dario Poletto as a street hustler and a pal. The two exchange verbal compliments in their respective lingoes. After a pat on the back from a dude to a bloke and back, the transaction is completed. Then Brooke tells me about his courtship with his wife Karen Lynn. "She started giving me pins and I fell in love with her," he tells me. Yes, the road to man's heart sometimes travels through his lapel. Karen Lynn is not here. "I left her at home," Brooke says. "A vacation is not a vacation if you take your wife along." I'm wondering how smooth the road to Mrs. Brooke's heart will be upon Mr. Brooke's return.

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My discussion with Brooke is interrupted by a screamer from across the tent who stuns me when I discover he is speaking without a bullhorn. "I'm Crazy-Pin Sean," he says, as I wait for blokes in Canberra to tell him to keep it down. "I lost my girlfriend because of pins," he says proudly. "Wanna know how?" I'm thinking Crazy-Pin Sean should be SOCOG's fallback system if the P.A. at Stadium Australia goes on the fritz. He tells me he's Sean Pearce, a 27-year-old from Dee Why, a town outside the Australian city of Manly (about 18 miles north of downtown Sydney). Sean had this habit, you see, of heading out of town on a moment's whim to buy, sell and trade pins at every competition he could find. He also specialized in autographs, collecting the signature of Aussie runner Kathy Freeman 28 times. Sean would travel to Sydney to sleep against a pylon to get one of 100 bottles of Coke that proclaimed 6 months to go, then 5 months to go, and 4 months to go. "You could buy the set of six for $50 [Australian] each," he says. "So I paid $300 and sold them for $3,600." "The problem was me not coming home." Ah, that problem. "She was with me 2 1/2 years, my girlfriend. She said if you don't stop your Olympic garbage, I'm going to go elsewhere. She wanted to me to spend the money I made on her instead of more pins. I've got 12,000 pins. She's been gone since May, moved to Queensland to live with her Nanna. She took the car, the stereo, our $4,000 camera, but I kept the pins, so it's all right." My sympathy antenna, often easily activated, is a bit underwhelmed by Crazy Pin Sean.

Then I meet Noel Watkins, a sweet retired lady who splits her time between Hawaii and Montana to dodge the cold weather. "I had never heard of pin trading before the opening ceremonies in Los Angeles," she tells me. "My husband and I were living there at the time." The couple had planned a trip to Arizona to get away from the Olympic madness when someone offered them tickets to opening night shortly before they were scheduled to leave. The pin bug was thereafter terminal. Watkins tells me she and her husband trade and buy their pins, but won't sell them. This is their sixth Olympics and the trip will run them about $7,000, not including incidentals that are often overlooked in the heat of trading ... like food. Her favorite pins, she says, are the ones she received from an Italian archer and from a Chinese weightlifter who won a gold medal in 1984. "I'm sorry for anything I ever parted with in my life," she says. A man interrupts our discussion to trade with Watkins, who withstands the sweet sorrow of parting by admiring her shiny new pin.

SI writer-reporter Brian Cazeneuve, the magazine's Olympics expert, is in Australia for the Games. Check back daily to follow his behind-the-scenes reports.

Related information
SI's Brian Cazeneuve at the Olympics: Olympic Web surfing
Archive: Sports Illustrated at the Olympics
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