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FEATURE Olympic pin collectors hunt enamel where others fight for gold By Albert Otti, dpa

Europe
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Athletes strive for gold, silver and bronze at the Olympics. A hardy little group of fanatics have a very different reason to attend Games after Games.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Frederic Garriga has tickets for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but he is not sure if he will actually use all of them.

As athletes from around the world compete for medals, the Spaniard has more important business to attend to at the Summer Games: collecting commemorative Olympic pins.

Tickets are mainly a way for him to get into to the Olympic Park and its many stadiums, where pin aficionados can meet spectators, athletes, officials and each other to trade the little metal collectibles.

"Sometimes I go to look [at a sports event], sometimes I stay outside trading," said the civil servant from Barcelona, who has been hunting pins at 11 Summer and Winter Games since his city hosted the Olympics in 1992.

As he sits on the ground, people approach him and look at the pins that are displayed in front of him.

National Olympic teams, media organizations and other companies produce a myriad of pins with elaborate enamel or plastic designs for each Olympic Games.

While athletes would gladly receive medals of any colour in Rio, Garriga and the 20-or-so pin collectors who travel from Olympics to Olympics are fare more discerning.

"I have plenty of these," Garriga said dismissively as a journalist tries to trade an unassuming pin for one of Garriga‘s more fancy specimens.

Garriga says he has collected thousands.

His best catch so far in Rio is a pin by Chinese broadcaster CCTV that has moveable parts and sports Vinicius, the mascot of the 2016 Summer Games.

"Sliders" or "spinners," as moveable pins are called, are especially prized, said Jeffrey Kolkmann, a US pin collector who lives in Norway.

"It‘s an international energy, you meet people from all over the world. That‘s the essence of it," the supermarket employee says about his passion.

While Garriga specializes in pins with Olympic mascots, Kolkmann seeks ones that are issued by the various national Olympic Committees.

The smaller the country, the rarer the pin. The shiny collectibles from Olympic teams such as Guam or the Bahamas are especially valuable.

Kolkmann said he was after a pin from South Sudan. "I gotta have that pin. They only have three athletes here," he said.

Travelling to Olympics every four years does not come cheap for the pin fanatics.

Kolkmann shares an apartment with other collectors in Rio, and at previous Games, he has stayed in the homes of friends he has made along the way.

Carol Lord, a pin fanatic from Canada, said she collects air mileage bonus points to finance her hobby.

She started collecting ever since the 2010 Winter Olympics in her home town Vancouver. "I volunteered there," she explained.

The retired florist from Vancouver is one of the most professional collectors. She has a formal accreditation that allows her to be in the Olympic Park, and she hands out business cards announcing her as Carol Lord, Olympic Collector, Pins & Memorabilia.

Although pins are mostly traded rather than sold, that doesn‘t mean that they are only traded for other pins.

Kolkmann, for example, has often given away Olympic tickets to people to get their pins in return.

"To me this is the most fun. It makes their day, or even their week," he said.

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