A heart chained to Olympics

July 30th, 2008 - 9:10 am ICT by IANS  

By Yang Jianxiang
Beijing, July 30 (Xinhua) The Olympics in the modern times began in 1896, thanks to Baron Coubertin of France, who brought the Games back to life centuries after the ancient Greeks’ annual sports event slipped into oblivion. But there were many earlier attempts to revive the classical Greek tradition, and a lot of the evidence for those attempts can be seen on the most mundane of objects: the key chain. “I have a bronze key chain issued for an 1865 Junior Olympics. I’ve posted an image of it on my blog,” said retired media technician Sun Baochuan, who has been collecting Olympics key chains for many years.

It seems that Sun, a lean old man with a strong south China accent, could go on for hours. He’s even published a book about the modern Olympics. Yet he’s not a scholar or historian, just a man with a passion for Olympics history.

Sun has more than 600 of these mementoes, covering all the modern summer games, plus the mascot key chains for all the Winter Olympics and Paralympics since 1968.

These are part of a 7,000-odd piece collection that’s taken a lot of Sun’s time since his retirement eight years ago.

Sun’s first Olympic chain, a bronze medal featuring a male disc thrower on the front and an eagle clutching an olive branch in its claws on the back, was a gift from a colleague who went to the 1984 Games held in Los Angeles.

The event was special to the Chinese because it marked China’s return to the Games after decades of absence - and shooter Xu Haifeng won the first Olympic gold in the nation’s history.

Sun has sought key chains for all the Olympics since then, whether in the Games cities, at flea markets, or through friends and family. When China won its bid for the 2008 Games, Sun’s collection soared. He’s got more than 200 types of key chain for these Olympics.

Many of his items are bronze or copper, with a few pieces of plastic. Some show the real or imaginary animals that have been Games mascots.

Sun made some of the key chains himself. The 1916 Berlin Olympics did not take place because of Great War of 1914. Sun obtained a playbill for the planned event and used it to make a small image for a self-made chain.

The 1944 London Olympics was another victim of conflict, the World War II, and Sun could only find a set of three stamps issued in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the International Olympics Committee was based. He made one stamp into a plastic key chain.

For most pre-1984 Games, Sun did the collecting online, often through auctions. Although he was a technician and graduate of the Wireless Electronics Department of Tsinghua University, Sun had to learn about buying online and that it often cost a lifetime of savings.

Sun’s love affair with key chains began in 1975, during his first trip abroad - a business visit to Paris. Like many collectors, he started small.

When he was in Moscow in 1996, a colleague took him to a flea market. After buying several sets of the famous Russian nested dolls, he looked around. Suddenly, he saw a golden key chain in the shape of a brown bear that had the five-ring Games logo on its belly. It was mascot Micha for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He snapped it up without bothering to bargain.

“I was afraid someone else would take it away,” Sun said.

Sun’s collection of 7,000 pieces of medals and key chains has given him an -encyclopaedic knowledge of the Olympics. His 238-page book, published in January, was entitled “A Heart Chained to the Olympics”.

His Beijing Olympics collection includes 30-plus sets of the five Fuwa mascots and other items featuring the Bird’s Nest, Water Cube and related subjects.

Sun also plans to keep collecting after the Beijing Games.

He still has an eye out for some elusive items, such as chains from three of the Winter Olympics - the 1936 Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley, California, and the 1964 Games in Innsbruck, Austria.

His hobby runs in the family. When Sun visited the US in 2006, his five-year-old granddaughter had a school assignment: to buy a Christmas gift for her grandparents.

The little girl chose a key chain. Now she has a small collection of Beijing Olympic key chains.

“I once joked that Olympic collecting should start with children,” Sun said.

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