When New Zealand Olympian No. 1134, Sarah Cowley-Ross, was handed her Olympians pin last week, it held special significance in a number of ways.

Cowley, who earned her pin as a heptathlete at the 2012 London Olympics, is married to New Zealand Olympian No. 756, Angus Ross, who competed in bobsleigh at three Winter Olympics.

It was really special because my husband also has his Olympians pin, so its nice that we can share that honour together, Cowley says. Its also a very unique way to be recognised as an Olympian in New Zealand. There are not many of us, and its really special to acknowledge it. The pin is not only for me, but for my family and everyone who helped me get to an Olympic Games.

The idea of an Olympic lapel pin, exclusive to New Zealand, was born in 2008, when the country selected its 1000th Olympic athlete (who happened to be middle distance runner Adrian Blincoe) for the Beijing Olympics.  The New Zealand Olympians Club - set up by hockey Olympian and CEO of Sport New Zealand Peter Miskimmin - wanted to come up with a distinctive way of celebrating every Olympian who had ever represented New Zealand.

Miskimmins cousin Selwyn Maister, a hockey gold medallist at the 1976 Montreal Games, was among the committee of Olympians who came up with the idea to give every Olympic athlete their own number, and engrave it on a gold pin featuring the Olympic rings and the silver fern. Establishing the pin programme was an intense, but rewarding, process.

First of all, we had to define Who is an Olympian? The definition is an athlete selected by the NZOC for an Olympic team, who must then be accredited into the Olympic village, Maister says. Then we had to get the numbers right. Once youve issued an athlete with their number, you cant change it.

The numbers are in chronological order of Olympic selection, with No. 1 assigned to Harry Kerr, the bronze medal-winning walker in the 1908 London Games. Today there are 1225 New Zealand Olympians, with the latest numbers bestowed on athletes who competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Maister, who was first selected for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, is No. 236.  His brother, New Zealands IOC representative Barry Maister is No. 235.  Its great to see a lot of athletes sign off their emails with their numbers now, Selwyn Maister says.

By coincidence, New Zealands Olympians are keeping pace with the All Blacks, who also have a unique numbering system. The most recent All Black to make his debut, Nehe Milner-Skudder, is All Black No. 1146.  There may soon be athletes who belong to both esteemed groups, as rugby sevens make their debut at next years Rio Olympic Games.

Within days of receiving her pin at a special ceremony in Auckland, Cowley immediately took the opportunity to wear it in public with pride. I received my pin on the same day as [boxer] Alexis Pritchard-Todd, and we were guest speakers at an event two days later. We both turned up with our pins on, and people were blown away by them. Ive also worn it to Wesley Intermediate in my role as Olympic Ambassador, and the kids loved it too.

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