The staging of the Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer provided a welcome boost for many local businesses, but few success stories reached the dizzy heights achieved by Örnulf Börke, whose company was contracted to produce the collector pins for Lillehammer 1994. Such was the popularity of the pins it produced that the company went on to design and supply pins for several future editions of the Games.
“I took over my father’s company back in 1990. He had been responsible for producing all of the pins for the Norwegian Olympic Committee’s bid to stage Lillehammer 1994. Ahead of the Games, we looked very closely at what makes collectors tick, for example stamp and coin collectors, and used this research to develop our pin programme.
“We created a limited range of about 50 pins for the Games, using flags, pictograms or emblems, and it really took off. We sold 18 million pins in Norway alone. Back then the population of Norway was only about 5 million, so that makes more than three pins for every single Norwegian. It was incredible. We knew about the potential popularity of pins, because at the previous Winter Games in Calgary some 4-5 million pins had been sold. But we set a new Olympic record. We worked closely with the Norwegian Pin Club to create a distribution network all around Norway, and we received a lot of support from the Olympic sponsors too.”
Though he was too busy to attend any of the sporting events during Lillehammer 1994, Börke did manage to make it to the Closing Ceremony. “That was great fun – everyone was just so happy. And more generally I can remember the main street in Lillehammer being packed with people almost 24 hours a day.”
Looking back at the legacy created by the 1994 Games, Börke sees plenty of positives. “It’s not just the venues that were built for the Games, and which are always well used; the whole area has been developed. A lot of people now have their summer houses in the area, and the roads and infrastructure around the town that were improved for the Games are all lasting benefits that we still feel today.”
Today Lillehammer, tomorrow the world
Buoyed by the success of his pin programme in his native Lillehammer, Börke turned his attentions to future editions of the Games. “After Lillehammer I went to Sydney and had talks with the organisers of the 2000 Olympic Games. They had heard about our success in Norway and were keen to get us on board. I signed up with SOCOG and was given the licence for Sydney 2000. I employed around 35 people in Sydney in design and distribution. It was very successful. The company we created there still exists today, and we have a team of six in Sydney still working on various sports events around the world.
“And then I established another company in Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games, and another one for the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. My philosophy has always been to employ local people so that they can add local content to the pins. It’s quite an expensive way to do it, but it’s also the best way as you really need local knowledge to make the pins successful.”
Coming full circle
When the Olympic flame returned to Lillehammer in 2016, for the Winter Youth Olympic Games, Börke’s company was again in the thick of things, but this time it was tasked with designing more than just the pins. “We also produced a range of souvenirs and even the medals that were given to the athletes,” he explains. And he is now setting his sights on a return to the senior Olympic stage. “The next Games we hope to be involved in are Paris 2024,” he reveals. “I’m really looking forward to that.”