By Jed Boal, KSL 5 -
SALT LAKE CITY — Regardless of how the U.S. Olympians and Paralympians perform in their events in Sochi, Salt Lake-based O.C. Tanner makes sure every one of them goes home with a piece of Utah gold. “Everybody is proud to say they have a part in it,” said Sandra Christensen, director of award design at O.C. Tanner. Since the Olympic games in Greece in 2000, O.C. Tanner has designed and donated unique gold rings to every USA Olympian and Paralypian and their support team members. “They’re so appreciative of it, it just tugs at our heartstrings,” said Christensen. Many Utahns feel a close connection with the Olympics because of the experience they shared here in 2002.
At O.C. Tanner, the workers know that their creations will be with the athletes for the rest of their lives.The rings are a point of pride and honor for the company that pioneered the business of employee recognition. For 86 years, O.C. Tanner has provided companies around the world powerful symbols of recognition to give to their workers: a thanks for a job well done. “Everybody feels as though they have a stake in it,” Christensen said. On display in the company’s Founders Room, are the distinctive gold, silver and bronze medals awarded to the athletes in Salt Lake in 2002. Those, too, were designed and manufactured by workers at the company. “Once you start working with the Olympic athletes, you become part of the family, like, all of them are my children when I watch them perform,” Christensen said.
She has now worked with teams of O.C. Tanner employees to produce the rings for Team USA for eight Olympics. “It’s a constant reminder of their lifelong goal to get to that moment,” she said. And, a constant connection their workers have with those athletes. “As a small part, we’re part of Team USA,” Howard Jackman said as he polished and shaped a ring at his work stand. He considers it an honor. “Not all of them come home with a gold, silver, or bronze, but all of them get to come home and get honored with a ring for their work,” he said.
The athletes were sized for the rings before the games. Production starts in a few weeks. O.C. Tanner will make approximately 700 of the rings — a total that includes all of the athletes and their support teams. As the employees watch the games, they like to think of that unique connection they have. “It’s kind of fun to gamble and guess whose ring I’m going to get to touch or shape or cast,” said Joe Carbine, a ring finisher. The host city, the year, and the athlete’s sport are part of the ring.
For the first time, they’ve incorporated the American flag, along with the Olympic rings, into the design. The workers know that these enduring symbols will last with the athletes’ families for generations. “One hundred years from now someone is going to know that their grandparent or great grandparent was an Olympic athlete,” said Christensen. Several athletes will also be selected to receive inspiration awards — rings they can give to the person who inspired them on their paths to the Olympics.
The public can vote on those inspirational stories on the O.C. Tanner website.