In Barcelona, Olympic pins seemed to come in sizes that were inversely proportional to the size of the country that issued them. The Taiwanese, for example, traded a huge rectangle, while the mainland Chinese offered a red bauble that was tiny. Those who had seen basketball player Oscar Schmidt of Brazil launch most of his team's shots weren't surprised to find that he had a pin of his own. It was mine for one featuring a caricature of Larry Bird, Schmidt's favorite player.
In light of recent geopolitical developments, unprecedented heraldry graced many of the pins exchanged in Barcelona. The Unified Team pin was sought after because these were probably the only Summer Games in which that team will compete, and the Croatian pins, which looked like something you would find in a box of Rice Chex, were also in demand.
My biggest pin thrill wasn't in picking up either of those. Since first surrendering to this sickness in 1988, I have had a vague goal of acquiring one pin from every country in the Olympic movement. A great moral dilemma ensued: What to do about South Africa, a nation banished from the Olympics for 32 years but for which pre-1960 pins existed. In Seoul I bartered for a springbok with rings but felt dirty about it, as if I had somehow violated sanctions. Thus I was delighted in Barcelona when I picked up the two pins for South Africa's newly integrated National Olympic Committee—one white, one black. I'm keeping both.
The next time I'm told to get a life, I can tell myself that the life I don't have is now a bit more honorable. Anyone want a springbok with rings?