The Olympic Games. It inspires excellence, fair play, sportsmanship, competition, winning…and losing with dignity.
Once the competition concludes, the insiders focus on the games within the Games, one of pins, sponsor gifts, and other giveaways. That is where the underground athletes excel.
To the average Olympic fan, pins are another accoutrement of the Games, something fun, something to trade, something to collect. But for the Olympic insider, pins are the true Olympic currency. The Olympics do not work without the dedication and efforts of thousands of volunteers performing all sorts of jobs. In order to get what you need to have your team ready to perform at optimal levels, you need help to navigate the Olympic environment. Maybe you need to change your scheduled practice time. Maybe you need to get an extra training pass. Maybe you need access to a back room so that you can find a quiet place for an athlete to rest before the medal rounds. Olympic volunteers are there to help you. But sometimes you need these people to bend the rules just a little bit. Every advantage you can find gives you an edge toward a medal. Well, an official Olympic pin is a way of showing appreciation for a volunteer’s help and may be a way for them to help you find that little something extra that will provide an advantage in your preparation. An Olympic pin can get you a smile, a way of saying thank you, or an edge to the Gold. They come in all sizes and shapes. But, what makes them valuable is that they must have the Olympic Rings on the pin. Without the Rings, it’s just another ornament.
Olympic athletes compete in everything, whether it is sports, video games, or pins. Each country’s Olympic committee (NOC) provides its athletes with national pins for the Games. From the moment you step into the Village, the competition begins. Who can get the most pins? Who can get the coolest pin, the rarest? At the London Games, it was all about getting a pin from North Korea. It was definitely a prized possession from London.
Sponsor gifts are another way that athletes gage success at the Games. These can be things or events. But it is all about the notches in your belt. Sponsor hospitality houses are a specialty of the Games that often affords athletes and their families a quiet respite from the bustle of the Games. They are usually buildings that are taken over by a sponsor (Nike, Oakley, Adidas) or even a country (USA House, Russia House, Africa House) and converted into an oasis that includes drinks, food, and often a TV lounge to catch up on all of the Olympic events. Some hospitality houses offer free laundry facilities and free salon services. If you visited one of the sponsor houses, an athlete can expect to walk away with some signature apparel. It’s easy to see how people can be spoiled in this environment.
Then there is the really chic stuff. A visit downtown and maybe a wait in line for a few hours at the Beats store landed an athlete a pair of Dr. Dre headphones. If you weren’t walking around with a pair of Dr. Dre’s during the Games, well, then, you were just not a player.
Then, of course, there is the Olympic experience. Sure, it’s the once-in-a-lifetime walk around the track at the Opening Ceremonies. Nothing compares to that. But this is truly a spectacular experience. You walk through that tunnel under the stands. There is the bright spotlight blinding you as you enter the track. Then you take that right-hand turn and start to make that famous lap around the stadium. The crowd. The noise. It’s all for you. You can’t help but smile, raise your hands, and wave as if you know all 80,000 people sitting in the stands.
But, the savvy athletes enjoy that moment and then jockey their way to get to the outside edge of the track so they can be seen by the cameras. They look to get close to their more famous teammates such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Lo Lo Jones, and Michael Phelps because they know the cameras will be on these athletes for sure. The USA Fencing Team trumped all of these attempts because the flag bearer was one of their own — two-time gold medalist Mariel Zagunis. The fencing team got to walk directly behind Mariel so their picture opportunities were golden.
The team had another great opportunity for a Games-only experience when the First Lady opted to hold her London press event in our training facility. We were in the background while she held three interviews about the Games. It is certainly fair to say that the Fencing Team got their point across of having the best Games experiences.