Opinions & Letters

A golden day at the Olympics: a volunteer’s recollections

 | February 21, 2011

It didn’t begin with any fanfare. Outside of the racers, the week preceding the day had been like a torturous boot camp.

I had signed on as a course worker for the Paralympics. I joined my fellow weasel workers on Monday on the slalom course. It was covered with a foot of fresh West Coast wet sludgy snow. The temperature was above freezing. After loading the lift at 6:30 a.m. we shovelled and raked for three hours to bring the course down to the ice that remained from the Olympic runs. Between skiers and groupings we raked, tightened gates and sweated like we were in the desert. We succeeded in getting two runs of the standing women’s and men’s slalom completed.

Tuesday, dark and raining, we loaded the gondola. No course preparation for our team this day. The visually impaired and sitting giant slaloms were to be held in this drizzle. I carried bundles of bamboo where the “boos” were drilled in pointing outward from each turning gate to stop the course from being rutted during inspection.

Between runs, I carried a 40lb+ bucket of fertilizer in each hand down the course to harden up the soft snow. Unfortunately, on my was ski down, my bucket grabbed the smooge on my uphill side flipping me up in the air and ending up with me flat on my back with the bucket (on which I had a death grip) between my legs. I thought, ”What the hell am I doing here?” My left knee hurt and my back was stretched out, but I sucked it up and carried on. As the day closed 90 km/h gusts racked the top of the course. I was holding the top end of a roll of netting we had laid flat for rolling. The wind lifted the net and the two ladies on the other end up in the air. I kept saying, “This isn’t Kansas” but it sure felt like it.

On Wednesday, our day was spent cycling, picking up bundles of gates from the top of the Dave Murray and moving them to the top of the Paralympic start. At day’s end, we tromped and side-slipped the course. My knee was on fire. Thursday brought our team to placing B-netting t the top and bottom of Varnet Beach, a hard right hand crank below the start pitch, then a left hand 90 degrees, down a 150-meter steep vertical with a 100 degree right at the bottom. We replaced some poles the crashers broke, but the real work was carrying skis and pack up the course 150 meters to the top of the turn where the super-G would start on Thursday.

Friday gave us sunshine and a relatively quiet day re-installing B-netting, raking and shovelling. A roller in the middle of turn at the bottom of the pitch launched a number of sitting skiers—to their surprise, and our entertainment— but all recovered and finished. At close, we hiked our skis and packs to the top for a meeting. Fortunately, we were treated with meats, cheeses, beer and wine. Side slipping the course to the bottom was a lot easier after that repose.

Saturday was as dark as the other days. We shovelled, raked and ensured the gates were well set. The athletes pumped out their best for the last hurrah. On completion we unscrewed the gates, bundled them, picked up our rakes and shovels and skied to the top of Hot Air, the last vertical on the course leading to the finish corral. All the course workers assembled at the top of this pitch as the awards were given out. We gathered en masse at the top of the pitch looking at the three athletes 100 meters below us. The cheering continued as Karolina Wisniewksa (Canada), Solene Jambaque (France) and Lauren Woolstencroft (Canada) received their medals.

When Lauren took the podium we erupted in a deafening cheer. O Canada was never sung so loudly and poorly with one large Canadian flag joined by its little brother waving back and forth. The athletes waved as we cheered for at least five minutes. It was a golden day.

Athletes and volunteers from all over the globe united in giving their best as scenes like this were repeated throughout the Olympics and Paralympics. Just think if every day in our world was such as this.

John Hatchett, Sun Peaks, B.C.

Editor’s note: John Hatchett is a Sun Peaks local and was one of the volunteers in Whistler for the 2010 Olympics.

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