UB Insider #75: How OC Tanner Helps Bring a Gleam to Olympic Dreams
About this episode:
While you may know of the connections some of the athletes in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics have to Utah, the Beehive State has another tie to the Olympics: Every Olympian, Paralympian, and member of the support staff will be sporting a ring from O.C. Tanner, as has been the case in every Olympics since 2000. Sandra Christensen, Vice President of Awards for O.C. Tanner, tells how the company got involved, and why contributing to the spirit of the Olympics is a perfect fit with the company’s overall mission.
Watch the behind-the-scenes video mentioned in the interview here.
[The following has been edited for grammar and clarity.]
Lisa Christensen: Hello and welcome to UB Insider. I’m Lisa Christensen, online editor at Utah Business magazine. Chances are over the last couple of weeks you have watched at least one event from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. While you may know of the connections that some of the athletes have to Utah, the Beehive State has another tie to the Olympics: Every Olympian, Paralympian and member of the support staff will be sporting a ring from O.C. Tanner, as has been the case in every Olympics since 2000. Here to tell us about the rings is Sandra Christensen, vice president of awards for O.C. Tanner. Welcome.
Sandra Christensen: Hello, thank you. It’s great to be here.
Lisa Christensen: So just briefly tell me about the rings. Who gets them? How many are there? What are they like?
Sandra Christensen: The ring design changes every year – since 2000 it has been a new ring design. Usually the design is influenced by the host city or the look of the games. Every athlete and Paralympic athlete receives a ring as well as all of the coaches and staff, including the USOC staff. That has been the case since 2000.
Each games, obviously, has a different number of athletes and staff members. On average, the summer games has about 1,300 constituents and members of the delegation. About half of those are athletes. It takes a village to pull off the games. One skier might have a coach, a psychiatrist and a wax tech. You can imagine everybody that supports them throughout their Olympic journey. For the winter games it’s about 600-700 delegates, so about half that of the summer games. Sometimes it’s only about a third depending on how many people qualify for the team.
This year’s ring is beautiful. If you see the United States Olympic Committee, you see their team logo everywhere. It’s a circular logo and it’s got the five rings with the flag logo in the center. That is the top of the ring and it’s kind of the focal point of the ring. It has beautiful hand-enameling around the United States Olympic team portion which is the border.
Each side of the ring is customized for the athlete. One side has their sport pictogram and the name of the sport that they’re competing in, so snowboard, for instance, and the sport pictogram. The other side of the shank has the team logo, Pyeongchang and then it is also customized to each of the athletes. They get to decide how they’d like to personalize it. There is an area where they can put their last name. The hockey team, for instance, would put their last name and their jersey number if it fits. So without showing you, that’s a brief description of the ring. But this year it has that blue enamel which is a fun addition and the athletes really responded well to it. It kind of looks like the logo that they see whenever they see the United States team represented somewhere.
Lisa Christensen: We will have pictures of the rings on our website. It basically kind of sounds like a class ring type of style?
Sandra Christensen: It has been in the past. This year it’s a little bit like a class ring. It’s more what you would call a signet style. It has a circular top. I should note that if you do show pictures you will probably see a ring with red enameling as well. Those are the staff rings, which are a little different each year.
They want the athlete ring to be specific to the athlete and be really special. You have to have made it onto the Olympic team to get the athlete ring. And then the staff members, their ring is a little bit different. It doesn’t have the sport pictogram or their name. The enameling on the staff ring is red. In the past it’s been a lot like a class ring. We’ve done some that have been rectangular or oval. We’ve had a lot of fun with the shapes and styles. The last two games have been circular in their design to feel less like a school ring. But there is still a lot of the customization that you would see on a school ring.
Lisa Christensen: So you guys have been doing this since the year 2000, and of course those Olympics were in Sydney. Why did you decide to start making the rings at that time?
Sandra Christensen: In about 1999, maybe closer to 1998 when Salt Lake won the bid for the 2002 Olympic Games, there was a controversy that came out. It was kind of a bribery scandal and things like that. Ao while everyone was celebrating the games coming to Salt Lake there was a little bit of an overshadowing of support. There was a little bit of a lack of people jumping forward because they were waiting for that scandal to go away. Our CEO at the time stepped in and decided to get involved because he saw O.C. Tanner as a corporate citizen in this community that was philanthropic. So the company stepped up in about 1999 to support the 2002 winter games.
In 1999 we made the commitment to do the medals for all of the athletes and actually donate those medals. But at that moment in time the 2000 games were still upon us. The United States Olympic Committee needed a supplier for their 2000 rings, so sort of retroactive from when our contract would have begun, we said we’ll go ahead and put that in our contract. So we got started on that ring to support those athletes. That allowed us to get a little sneak peek at what the energy felt like coming from the athletes in 2000. So we went ahead and designed and donated those rings and then have continued our support and contract up through, actually we have a contract through Tokyo in 2020. So we’ll still be supporting Team USA in 2020.
Lisa Christensen: Well that’s fantastic. What kinds of things do you consider with each of these individual Olympics? You mentioned that the rings are customized for each games.
Sandra Christensen: A lot of times it’s the inspiration of what’s going on in the city. So for instance, I can think of one off the top of my head: the ring for Vancouver in the 2010 games. The indigenous culture and their totem poles and kind of that Inuit style made its way onto the shank of the ring. The ring for Greece felt Etruscan and kind of served as that nod back to the original games. It had more of an antique feel to it. So some specific inspiration from the host cities has informed our design, and as our relationship has evolved with USOC, their input also helps shape what the ring is going to look like. They’ll reach out to athletes and ask what they’d like to see on the ring. The last two games have been very specific to the USOC. I think they’ve wanted to make sure they’ve got a really intense visibility of their brand, the Team USA brand. And so that was what came through with this last design. It’s really a reflection of the United States Olympic Committee, the Team USA brand, with less focus on Korea and the Pyeongchang look and feel.
Lisa Christensen: What is the timeline on creating the rings? It’s a massive project, I’m sure. You mentioned that for the 2000 Olympics you started in 1999 or 1998. How long does it take to design and then produce these rings?
Sandra Christensen: So for the actual production of the ring, the reason that we started so early with the 2002 games is because of the journey to make the medals. That was a multi-year endeavor. The design process for the rings themselves started, for this games in particular, in the October 2017 timeframe. We throw it out to our design team and based on the input from the USOC, they’ll spend a couple of weeks noodling on a couple of concepts. They’ll then send a couple of sketches to the USOC for input and so they can solicit feedback from a committee. In typical fashion, a couple weeks later they’ll give us their input and we make a few tweaks and enhancements to the design or retool if they don’t like the direction. So that would generally take a month to two months to design and get final approval.
Once we have that final approval the rings go into a process called our CAD production file, where we actually make a 3D model of that ring. That takes another couple of weeks. Then molds and sampling is about a monthlong process of cutting metal molds to make the rings from. And so by December we had sort of shored everything up, knowing that we would go into processing in the end of January. We had samples ready to go and took a full kit over for all of the athletes to try on.
When the athletes go through team processing, that’s where they get outfitted for all of their Olympic gear. Everything that you see them wear when they’re competing, their podium gear, their opening and closing ceremonies gear, they go through team processing to receive all of that. The ring is part of that process. They come to a table and sit down and look at all the options and then we size them and get their order. We don’t actually place the order until the games end. We store that information until everyone is done competing. Anyone who wins a gold medal can have their ring say “gold medalist.” So we don’t dare submit any orders, because we would be making bets one way or the other and that’s not fair. There were a few we were pretty sure about this year, but we still held off on submitting those orders.
Once the games and the Paralympic games have concluded, we will fast track production. What they’re doing is presenting all of the athletes with their rings at the White House. That event is happening April 26th. So as soon as the Paralympic Games end, we’ll have production in full swing and we’ll have a very condensed amount of time to produce at least enough rings for the athletes. That’s our only kind of mission. The staff rings are outside of that. So of the 700 or so that we’re going to manufacture, about 360 of those will be produced for that White House event for all of the athletes and Paralympic athletes.
Lisa Christensen: There is a video that shows a behind the scenes look at the whole process, correct?
Sandra Christensen: Yes, on our website.
Lisa Christensen: We will have a link to that as well so that people can find it easily.
Sandra Christensen: Definitely.
Lisa Christensen: So tell me, how does this fit into the overall mission of O.C. Tanner?
Sandra Christensen: So our corporate objectives and what we do on a daily basis is appreciate people who do great work. That is the core of our business. The heart of our business is making sure that people feel appreciated and loved at work. If you think about this being the athlete’s life work, to get to the top of the podium or to get to be the best in their sport, what greater honor for them than to receive something from the company that does this for millions of people all over the globe. The highest honor in sport is getting an Olympic medal and our mission is to make sure that all of them go away with some piece of gold or silver whether they make it to the podium or not. We believe that it perfectly aligns with our corporate objective of honoring great work and greatness in people and helping influence that greatness.
Lisa Christensen: Well thank you so much for coming. I appreciate it.
Sandra Christensen: Thank you for having us.
Lisa Christensen: Thanks also to Mike Sasich for production help. You can drop us a line at email@example.com or on social media at @utahbusiness. Be sure to subscribe to UB Insider wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening.