In addition to medals, US Olympians receive unique rings

  • While every Olympian is vying for a gold medal, members of the US team receive special rings.
  • For champions like Shaun White, the ring represents a hard-earned title and can be worn every day.
  • Since 2000, employee appreciation company OC Tanner has handcrafted the ring for every athlete in the United States.

Technically, nothing prevents an Olympian from wearing his medal every day.

In reality, however, such a display would likely draw criticism – not to mention being sartorially awkward.

Luckily for Team USA members, there’s another way to show their pride: memorial rings made and donated by Utah-based employee appreciation company OC Tanner.

“It’s a little more subtle than a medal,” Sandra Christensen, the company’s vice president of awards, told Insider.

OC Tanner Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Rings

OC Tanner

OC Tanner began supplying rings to Team USA Olympians and Paralympians in 2000, as the company’s hometown of Salt Lake City prepared for the 2002 Winter Games.

In the decades since, the rings have become a treasured keepsake for champions like snowboarder Shaun White.

“This ring is really, really special to me,” White told GQ, counting her 2006 Torino ring as one of her most prized possessions.

“This one is so special to me because it’s my first,” White said. “I had no idea how my life would change afterwards, and the magnitude of what I had just accomplished.”

Reflecting on that historic halfpipe race 16 years ago, White recalled his mother’s words at the time: “Forever you will be known as Shaun White, the Olympic gold medalist – that title will follow you for the rest of your life.”

While every athlete on Team USA is eligible to receive a ring, only gold medalists can choose to have theirs engraved with the title.

Back in the days of paper order forms, there was a checkbox to say “Gold Medalist”, which was the source of unease for some superstitious athletes linked to the Olympics.

“They were like, ‘Talk to me after games and I’ll let you know.'” Christensen said. “They wouldn’t check the box.”

Some gold medalists even refuse to include their achievement on their ring, preferring instead that it represent their status as a member of the American team.

“It’s the top echelon, the best in the world in their sport,” Christensen said.

Although OC Tanner is increasingly going digital, the 95-year-old company still handcrafts Olympians’ rings at its Utah headquarters.

Manufacture of the Olympic and Paralympic rings of the American team

OC Tanner

The techniques and processes used to make the rings have evolved over the decades from wax sculptures to computer-aided design models, but the company keeps an archive of every ring it’s ever made just in case a replacement would be required.

In 2018, snowboarder Nick Baumgartner told the Denver Post that he returned his Olympic ring to be melted down and reforged after his work as a concrete contractor damaged it.

“My occupation has completely destroyed it,” he said.

Christensen recalled working with him on the repair: “There was literally cement baked into the details, it was broken. I think he wore it every day.

Gold medalists Nick Baumgartner and Lindsey Jacobellis of the United States celebrate during the flower ceremony

Mike Blake/Reuters

When Baumgartner took to the podium with Lindsey Jacobellis after the mixed team event last weekend, celebratory photos revealed Baumgartner’s ring once again worn nearly bare.

Perhaps he will treat his gold medal more gently.

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