A Reluctant Olympic Volunteer, Converted

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I’ve had issues with Salt Lake City for decades. During the years I coached the Dartmouth Ski Team, the NCAA Championships were dominated by the University of Utah, but they achieved that success by recruiting most of their athletes from Scandinavia.

Then there were the back room deals the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee made years ago to push Anchorage, Alaska out of the running. Anchorage was America’s choice for the ’92 and ’94 Games, but their candidacy was blind-sided by Salt Lake, which then became the successful bidder for 2002.

Just before Salt Lake was awarded the 2002 Games, a friend and I contacted Tom Welch and Dave Johnson about designing the Olympic Nordic ski courses. They planned to establish the Olympic trails on a golf course between Salt Lake and Park City, and restore it for golf immediately following the Games. When we rated the golf course unsuitable for a wide variety of reasons, Welch and Johnson made it clear we wouldn’t be working for the organizing committee.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since Johnson and Welch are the same two who, are under indictment for orchestrating the Olympic bribery scandal which rocked the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to it’s core.

So, when my friend Max Cobb, Chief of Competition for the Olympic biathlon events, asked me to serve as Chief of Course, I was reluctant. But Max reminded me, this was not just Salt Lake’s Olympics, it was America’s Games. We were expected to host the best possible competitions for the athletes of the world.

The National Biathlon Championships in February of 2000 served as our first test event. It poured rain for five days straight at Soldier Hollow just prior to the competitions. But when the weather turned cold, snow guns ran around the clock, and dump trucks hauled snow from a nearby mountain pass. I was thoroughly impressed by the effort.

In March, 2001, Soldier Hollow was the site of a Biathlon World Cup event, an opportunity for the top international competitors to experience the Olympic venue, as well as a dress rehearsal for the hundreds of volunteers who would conduct the Olympic events. The World Cup was a tremendous success.

A year later, the world had changed. Chain link fences, metal detectors, surveillance helicopters, and security officers were everywhere. But the Games went on. The Olympic skiing events at Soldier Hollow really were "the best ever". For hundreds of volunteers, it truly was "a once in a lifetime experience." Only the ongoing scourge of illegal doping marred the nearly perfect events.

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I was a reluctant Olympic volunteer at first, but in retrospect, I’m grateful to have been a part of the recent Salt Lake Winter Games.

This is John Morton in Thetford, VT.

–John Morton designs trails and writes about sports.

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