appreciating great work: honoring our U.S. olympic and paralympic athletes

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U.S. Olympic Team RingsHere at O.C. Tanner we truly recognize the great work and commitment it takes to be an Olympian. As the 2012 Olympic Games gear up in London, we continue to be inspired by the dedication and determination of every Olympic athlete in their quest for glory. It’s with great honor that since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, our teams have designed, created, and donated the Olympic team rings for every outstanding U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athlete. The following interview with Development Director, Sandra Christensen, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the love and care that goes into making these team rings and the true inspiration behind the Inspiration Award–a gold commemorative ring created to honor the mentors who encourage and inspire these Olympic athletes to success.


Q: What’s the inspiration behind the designs of the U.S. Team rings?

A:  For every Olympics–winter and summer–we design a new gold ring that celebrates the experience in the host city. In the past, the rings were traditional collegiate style. We now create ring designs that are exclusive to each Olympics. Over the years, we’ve had a chance to do some fun and crazy things. [In Salt Lake City] the pictograms looked like petroglyph drawings. In Sydney, the athletes on the rings were designed to resemble little boomerangs. This year’s design features the unique shape of the UK commemorative 50 pence coin. Each ring is then also customized with the athlete’s name and one of 36 pictograms of their sport.


Q: How long is the process from design to completion of the rings?

A: The entire process takes about a year. We create three designs that are sent to the USOC six months before the games. Once they approve a design, our ring department begins manufacturing the rings right here in Salt Lake City. It takes 40 hours from start to finish to manufacture each individual ring. That doesn’t count the hours cutting the molds for the rings or the hours spent finishing the ring. Our bench jewelers finish the rings one at a time which includes grinding, polishing, setting diamonds, and engraving. This process ensures each ring is unique and customized with the athlete’s name and sport. We’re proud to say the U.S. team rings are made right here in the U.S. by U.S. employees.


Q: Part of O.C. Tanner’s involvement with the Olympics includes attending team processing, where the athletes meet a few weeks before the Games to get promotional gear and apparel, like clothing and accessories for the opening and closing ceremonies. How do the athletes react when they see the team rings?

A: Athletes love it. They’re always so excited to be [at processing]. There’s so much energy from the athletes and so the ring is a fun part for them. They go get their clothing and when they see us, they’re like ‘Oh! There’s the ring!’ They come running in saying, “Let me see the ring this year.” The ring is timeless. It’s something they’ll keep forever. It’s something that everyone receives whether they medal or not. It’s their gold.


Q: O.C. Tanner also creates a ring for the athletes to give to their mentors called the Inspiration Award. How did that get started?

A: At every Olympic Games, athletes would ask us if they could buy a ring to give to the people who supported them on their journey–their coach, mom, dad, uncle, mentor, spouse. We would hear these incredible stories about the sacrifices made and wanted to find a way to meet this need. We can’t sell the U.S. team rings the athletes receive, so we came up with the idea of the Inspiration Award which was a huge success at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. We had athletes submit stories of the people who inspired and supported them in their quest for glory. Their stories were posted on Facebook where the public voted on the most inspiring story. One million votes later – three Olympic and three Paralympic Inspiration Awards were chosen. It was such a moving experience to be involved in. One award winner was the small town of Shelby, Nebraska. The entire town was present when the award was given. It was such an amazing experience to see an entire community sharing in one dream.


Q: What’s the design of the Inspiration Award rings?

A: The Inspiration Award is a hand-hammered 14k gold ring depicting an image of a classic Greek mentor. The image is encircled by the laurel leaf crown of the ancient games and the Greek words for “inspire,” “Olympic” and “mentor.” We really wanted the design to feel very authentic and capture the essence of the Olympic spirit from the ancient games. This design won’t change over the years. It’s a timeless keepsake. The recipients can be proud to be one of the few who’ve received such a prestigious award.


The Inspiration Award serves to spread appreciation and acknowledgement to those who made it possible for our great Olympians to follow their dreams. So as the world fills with Olympic excitement over the next few weeks, we invite you to help us honor those people behind the athletes. Read their stories of inspiration on our Facebook page, and then make sure to vote for your favorite starting July 27.

By christina pope
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