The London 2012 Olympics are over which means I finally can regain control of my DVR. I don’t know about you, but 5-8 hours of recorded Olympic coverage per day means that all I do when I get home is speed through the 3-6 hours of recorded commercials and catch some NBC-approved highlights of actual sporting events. At any rate, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Olympics, partly because I am more emotionally invested in the USA Gymnastics Team than I care to admit, (Did you see the Magnificent 7 flashback segment? 1992 Atlanta Games? Keri Strugg? I watched it a half-dozen times, crying every time she nailed that last vault.) and partly because ten years ago I played my own role in the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games. I was a volunteer and spent the better part of 3 weeks completely immersed in Olympic mania, decked out in official Olympic gear, with official Olympic credentials.
June 1995. Today is the day the International Olympic Committee will announce the 2002 host city. I remember rushing home from summer band rehearsal to watch the broadcast. The band kids in my neighborhood ran into HRH‘s family room, hoping we hadn’t missed it. A few minutes later the International Olympic Committee award the 2002 Winter Olympic Games to “The city of…Salt Lake City.” We went crazy.
Over the next 8 years Salt Lake City revamped their freeway system, put in the TRAX public transportation system, constructed dozens of venues for Olympic events, and made massive renovations and additions on the University of Utah campus, which was the site of both the Opening and Closing ceremonies, as well as the Athlete’s Village. (School was cancelled for over a month during the Olympic Games and dorm-dwellers were evacuated to make room for the athletes. Many students who didn’t live on campus housed these refugees for several weeks, although many also went home or on vacation, taking advantage of the time off.)
Somewhere in that span there was a massive scandal, it was discovered that members of the Olympic committee had bribed some IOC officials. There was talk of the games being cancelled, however ultimately the IOC decided a change in leadership would be the best route. Mitt Romney was appointed for the job, he walked into a failing enterprise and turned it around into the most (financially) successful Olympics to date raising more money with fewer sponsors than any other Olympic games. After the closing ceremonies the Salt Lake Olympic Committee still had $40 million in surplus funds which has been used to maintain many of the Olympic facilities, most of which are still in operation for training current athletes and entertaining tourists (would you like to take a bobsled run down the Olympic track? We can do that.) Now, regardless of how you feel about his politics, what he did in Salt Lake for the Olympics was stellar and he should be commended for that.
The Winter Olympics are held in February, what many people forget about February 2002 is that it was a mere 5 months after September 11, 2001. Again, there was talk of the games being cancelled. Romney and the Salt Lake Olympic Committee completely overhauled the security plan and called in thousands of additional volunteers to help. Those of us who were already scheduled to be volunteers attended a half-dozen additional trainings on security measures and procedures. In the end, I think, the games served their purpose. It is always a good reminder that every 2 years the world community will stand together and celebrate each other. The would will also cheer when you fall–either because it places them higher in the rankings or because they are showing good will and support, I can’t say–and in the end we are all the same family, hoping for peace and harmony across the globe.
I attended the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremonies, there were no athletes and the torch was left unlit, but everything else was in place including a flag from the World Trade Center with an honor guard comprised of members of the NYPD and NYFD. The dancing, the program, the special effects. It was breathtaking. Many of my friends were also volunteers, a friend danced in the opening ceremonies, another played the horn in the official Olympic marching band (and toured around following the torch as it made it’s way to Salt Lake), my Dad sang in the opening ceremonies and a dozen other concerts throughout the games.
I watched the Olympic torch come into Salt Lake City the first time, watched it go up to the Olympic Stadium, watched as the Wasatch Front exploded in fireworks as the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” US Hockey Team lit the Olympic cauldron. I got to experience the absolutely gridlock when every road was closed to allow President George Bush to get from the airport to the stadium without interruption to declare the 2002 games open. (They really should have parachuted him in. If the Queen of England can jump out of a helicopter, I’m sure The Prez could have managed it.)
I was a volunteer at the Olympic Medals Plaza where most medals were awarded each evening in addition to a mini concert (invited artists included Dave Mathews Band, Macy Gray, *NSYNC, Brooks and Dunn, Cheryl Crow, Bare Naked Ladies, Creed, Sting, among others.) It was the hottest ticket of the games. The place was CRAWLING with security, hundreds of hulking men who would never tell you their real name “I’m Bob” or “I’m Joe” or what agency they worked for. Of course, at age 18-19 (my birthday was mid-games), all I wanted to do was find out how important they really were, what agency they worked for, and if they would be able to introduce me to the President. Or Prince William. I literally rubbed shoulders with athletes and coaches on a nightly basis. The Polish speed racing team was especially nice to me. Brooks and Dunn gave me a T-shirt and guitar pick and one of the American bobsled medalists gave me his 2-dozen yellow rose bouquet (a moment which is immortalized on the several-hours-long Official Commemoration DVD).
On my birthday, Bare Naked Ladies performed at the medals plaza. Not only did I swing tickets into the section immediately in front of the stage, where I bumped into Steve Young, football legend, my volunteer pass allowed me to go backstage and meet the band afterwards. And I apparently I knew the right people, and those people knew that I was turning 19. The Bare Naked Ladies sang “Happy Birthday” to me backstage. My dear friend, JRod, another Olympic volunteer, was my date for the night and it was the best birthday I had ever had, or would have for another decade.
The combination of freezing temperatures throughout the games, and my required 6-8 hour evening and night outdoor shift meant the layers of official Olympic gear were a godsend. I still regularly wear my black snowpants and a fleece half-zip pullover, but the golden coat and vest were retired long ago. After the ceremonies were over, anyone who still wore their Olympic gear in public was often called a POD (Post Olympic Dork). Admittedly, I haven’t worn my golden coat since the closing ceremonies, although I think my POD-calling habit had a lot to do with my being 19 and less to do with the actual dorkiness attached to such an activity. In retrospect, I should have sold them when I could, on my last day as a volunteer someone on the street offered me $1,000 dollars for my official coat. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.
I spent a year attending various training sessions, and three weeks volunteering as many hours as I could, but this is the first time I have written about my experience during the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games. I tried to get on as a paid employee in both Vancouver and London, but ultimately withdrew my application for both. Watching the Olympics the last few weeks makes me wonder what experience I could have had had I kept my application(s) in and pursued the opportunity. Sochi 2014? Anyone?
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