This is the first report of Pat and Emily Lanin's experiences as volunteer workers from Brainerd for the cross country skiing events at the 2002 Winter Olympics at Soldier Hollow, about 60 miles southeast and across a mountain range from Salt Lake City.
By EMILY LANIN
In order to be admitted to a venue, everyone has to go through the "mag and bag." It's much like an airport security station -- empty your pockets of any metal items and step through the detector while an attendant goes through any bags you've brought with you. If you have a camera, you have to click off a picture to prove it really is one. If you have any beverages, you must open them and take a drink with an obvious swallow.
Later, we learned to put all items that might set off the detector buzzer into a clear plastic bag for easy viewing to speed up the process. Handwarmer packets are one of those items.
We met up with one of our supervisors who gave us a quick overview of where we were to meet the next morning and outlined some of the basic rules to follow in doing our jobs. There are A LOT of rules. Some of them make sense, some definitely don't. Some change from one day to the next.
The ski courses and stadium are spectacular. By this time, everyone has seen TV photos of the area. The course, which loops back and forth across the hillsides and canyons through sparse sagebrush and cottonwoods, is in great shape. The stadium faces the hillside and includes the last section of the course so skiers come in at one end and ski to the opposite end of the stadium before looping around and skiing along the entire length of the bleachers to the finish line.
There is a huge illuminated results board and a huge TV screen opposite the stands, as well. Video cameras are set up all along the race course that can transmit the remote action immediately to the stands. The biathlon bleachers are set up on the backside of the ski stadium to view the entire shooting range. Above the targets, the structure slants away and is finished in a white material, with a giant, teal-colored representation of the Olympic rings mounted in the center. It's quite an impressive sight, especially in the afternoon sun. There is also an electronic results board and a video display.
Just outside the stadium, opposite the bleachers, is a group of teepees. There are some folks in pioneer era western garb there to entertain fans between and after ski events. A hayride or an old-fashioned steam engine train ride are also available. We noticed there are quite a few evergreens around the area that weren't here a year ago when we worked at the World Cup races.
Upon closer inspection, we find they look to be newly "planted," with a few totally brown from top to bottom. I suspect more of them will turn that color when the snow melts -- except the one we found out on the course camouflaging the back of a sign from view of one of the TV cameras. It's plastic.
Another thing different from last year's experience is we can no longer hear the announcer when we are out on our section of the course. Apparently all speakers are directed to the stadium, except a few in the very nearest vicinity. When a big cheer goes up, we know something happened, and if one of our team members is nearby with binoculars, he or she can tell by the uniform colors who might have won.
This is unfortunate for any spectators who might venture up onto the viewing areas adjacent to higher sections of the course, and especially for those of us who see the athletes for a split second as they pass by our station, then pop over a hill out of view.
In a close race, we don't know if the second-place person was able to overtake the leader, or if someone dropped out, or why, until we get word of mouth about it after the race. Too bad they didn't set speakers pointing our way or even out on the course as they do in Europe.
We are working as members of a section crew. Each section crew is designated a color team name. Ours is the green team. Pat is the crew leader, I am a peon. We are responsible for a different section of the course each day, although we may be assigned the same section more than once.
We manually repair any parts of the track that have gotten damaged by equipment, sunshine or heavy skiing activity. Snow rakes and shovels are close by. We also must be sure that V-board, 3-foot long, triangular constructions of blue-painted particle board, is placed to block off trails that are unused during the current race, or edges that are soft or drop off too sharply, or some other hazard. These are placed out in the morning by each team in their area of responsibility before skiers get on the course.
We've been specifically instructed to keep them equi-distant to look best on camera, also to be sure any fencing in our area looks neat and straight. After 4 p.m., team members can ski during "voluntary inspection" of the course, looking for any spots that need attention in their section assigned for the next day, and remove and stack V-board along the side of the trail to allow overnight grooming without obstruction.
Other than late-day skiing, it's best for team members to walk out to their respective assignments. Sometimes this can be quite a hike and over hill and dale besides. We "flat-landers" are not quite used to the altitude yet.
During a race, we must be sure that any kilometer markers in our section are correct for the event, we must limit coaches to specific areas of the course to keep TV camera sightlines clear or if their presence in an area would be a hazard to other skiers. Spectators must be off the course entirely.
There are designated blue nylon fenced areas specifically for spectators. Unfortunately, there have been relatively few of them. No one can be on skis during a race and no one is allowed to ski opposite the designated direction.
During "official training," the latter is one thing we are supposed to prevent. Overall, coaches and skiers have been cooperative. No international incidents have been set off so far. Many say this is the best course they've ever skied.
Our day starts about 4:30 a.m. when we roll out of bed to dress quickly, drive to the Park & Ride, and, we hope, catch one of the first buses to the venue. They've had trouble running enough buses to get everyone out there on time for their morning meetings 6 a.m. for crew leaders, 6:30 a.m. for all team members to learn the rules du jour.
Upon arrival, we must go through security, then we can pick up breakfast and lunch in the food tent. Breakfast consists of a Pop-Tart, granola bar, Yoplait, drink of choice (pop, canned orange juice, water, Powerade) and maybe apple slices or a fruit. Additional options are instant oatmeal, tea, coffee, hot chocolate.
If you are to be out on the course all day, without time to come in for a hot lunch, you may pick up a "mountain lunch" at this time. They are pre-bagged and may contain a sandwich, pasta salad, candy bar and cheese crackers. Many of us were surprised to find instead of a sandwich, a microwave soup. We've yet to find a microwave out on the course, so we've learned to look in the bag before leaving the tent.
The weather has been just about perfect. It's a little chilly when we are out waiting for the bus (single digits), but by the time we're out on the course and the sun creeps over the mountain, it begins to climb to the upper 20s and even lower 30s.
Most races are in the morning. If there are two in a day, the second is scheduled about noon so they miss the warmer afternoon temps.
We heard CNBC broadcast the first two races, the women's 15 kilometer and men's 30 kilometer, live. If you didn't see them, it's a real shame.
Stephania Belmondo of Italy won in the last stretch, after she broke a pole on the course, received a wrong-sized substitute, got a second one and caught up in time to sprint past the leader to win. A Montana fan handed her a pole and got it autographed after the race.
In the men's race, Johann Muelegg, a German who has moved to Spain, was far and away the strongest skier, outpacing the competition from the start and increasing his lead during the whole race. He's phenomenally strong and goes up those monster hills like they're speed bumps. These were the first-ever mass start races in the Olympics.
The 15km nordic combined was skied Sunday. These skiers started at intervals determined by their finish in the jumping competition Saturday. Two Finns finished well ahead of the rest of the field, keeping their dominance of this sport.
Monday, we had a shorter day, as it was a biathlon competition and they have their own crews. We only have to prepare our course for the following day and get to leave early. We may try skiing one of the other local trails in the afternoon, no doubt somewhat less challenging than Soldier Hollow.
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