Utah couple celebrates Olympic pin trading 20 years after Salt Lake Games
SALT LAKE CITY — In 1998, Mike and Paula Bennett owned a soccer store in the old Cottonwood Mall. They were on the bottom floor and bought some Olympic pins to sell for the upcoming games that were four years out. Sales for the pins plummeted when an official pin store opened on the main level. So, Mike Bennett took the 100-or-so pins, including original green Jell-O pins, and put them under the front counter and forgot about them.
Fast forward four years. The Olympics are now in full swing in Salt Lake City when Bennett sees a story run on a local station about people trading pins. He quickly remembers those pins under the counter. He got them out, dusted them off and went downtown with them. And, that’s where the fun really started for Bennett, who now has a collection of 3,500 official pins from the 2002 Winter Games.
“He couldn’t speak English,” Bennett tells the story of his first trade. “He put three down, pointed to that one and I nodded.”
That transaction lit a fire Bennett didn’t know existed in him. He told his wife, Paula, she should come with him and check out all of the pins.
“I hadn’t really heard of pin trading,” Paula Bennett said. “When I saw the green Jell-O pins I said to Mike, ‘What does the have to do with the Olympics?’”
She quickly learned there was a whole world of pins and traders playing an unofficial Olympic sport that was fun and exciting.
“Once you realize every pin has a story and was made for a reason,” that’s when you start to understand the game. One the Bennetts have been playing for 20 years. And the more time goes by, the more they love their collection. The feelings of nostalgia and having the chance to share the collection with others is one of the most rewarding parts of collecting the pins in what, they say, was the best Olympic Games ever.
“It was incredible,” Mike Bennett said. “And that’s why it’s known as probably one of the most successful games ever.”
The pin collection has everything from green Jell-O and fry sauce to fancy gold and diamond-encrusted pins created by OC Tanner, the same company that created the official medals won by athletes.
The Bennetts will tell you the patriotic pins and the official pins that represent the games are their favorites. If you remember, Salt Lake’s Games came just months after 9/11. Of course, pins were created to commemorate that too. Mike Bennett gets emotional as he points out the pin with firefighters raising the flag in New York and another pin representing the tattered American Flag as it was carried into Rice-Eccles Stadium by athletes during the opening ceremony.
The Bennetts now hold an open house for friends and family to look at the collection during Olympic Games. It’s something that started in 2020 and enjoyed again last week.
Paula Bennett never would have dreamed they would be pin collectors, but she loves the collection now for many reasons.
“Our theme was ‘Light the Fire From Within,’ and I feel that passion, and the fire within, I think the pins really were that for me, and for us with this collection,” she said.
The Bennetts say they likely won’t start another pin collection, but don’t rule out expanding this one.
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