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Souvenir Hunters Focus on Olympic Pins in Athens - 2004-08-19

While tens of thousands of sports enthusiasts arrive in Athens for the summer games, another, though smaller, group of people come here as enthusiasts of a different kind. Olympic pin collectors are in Athens to trade on the sidelines of the world's greatest athletic event.

Harvey, who declined to give his last name, started collecting Olympic pins during the 1988 winter games held in his home town of Calgary, Canada and he's been following the quest ever since.

"He who dies with the most pins wins the race," he said. "I don't know how we'll ever find out who really wins or if we'll all get together again - there's a bunch of us trying to get the most pins."

Harvey is a dedicated Olympic pin trader, but he's not the only one who's set up shop in front of the International Broadcast Center at the Olympic complex in Athens. There's Bill, who's also from Calgary, and another man from Los Angeles, who says he hasn't missed an Olympics since 1984. Since then, he says competition for pins, especially media pins, has grown.

"I think it started maybe a half-century ago maybe but basically it's everyone has pins, you know, NOC's or media. It just started getting big I think in 1984, that's when it really took off," the Los Angeles resident said.

The trick to trading pins is to trade up one or more less desirable pins for something more rare. This year, says one pin trader, he's looking for Japanese media pins.

There's a subtle difference, however, between the pin traders like the ones outside the Olympic complex and pin collectors like Dennis McDonald from the U.S. state of Washington.

Wearing a straw hat covered in Olympic pins and a few U.S. flags, he and his wife get on the metro just outside the Olympic stadium. He says this is his sixth or seventh Olympics, he's lost track. But, Mr. McDonald says they've only missed two Olympics since 1976.

"Almost every pin that I have, I have thousands, I either remember specifically the person or at least a vague image of that individual where we exchange part of ourselves," he said. "That's kind of like what pins are."

Mr. McDonald does not necessarily trade pins, but he has given some away. Pointing to an American flag pin on his hat, he says he's given away a number of those at this year's Olympics.