My Olympic Experience

by H. Clay Gorton

Sometime in the spring of 2001 I read in the BYU Alumni Magazine that the Salt Lake Olympic Committee was looking for volunteers with language capabilities, so I applied to become a volunteer. After a general meeting and a personal interview I was accepted as a volunteer.

Three service training sessions were held–May 19, June 20 and a date early in July. At the first session, held in an auditorium in the Huntsman Cancer Center, as I was looking for a place to sit, a pleasant young man asked if he could be of assistance. He was Brett Sterrett, the Olympic and Paralympics Family Services Manager. Brett is the son of my cousin, Morris Sterrett, who is the son of Cliff and Pearl Sterrett. Cliff was my mother’s brother.

After the three service training sessions, we attended five job specific and two venue specific training sessions–roughly a month apart from July through January 2002.

We picked up our uniforms on Thursday, Jan. 30, as I remember. The uniforms consisted of a black fleece turtle neck sweater, a pair of black trousers that pulled on over your regular trousers, a vest, a coat, a stocking cap, a baseball cap and a pair of leather gloves with separate glove liners. The uniforms were high quality outdoor gear, and their cost was about $1000 each. If we completed our assignments we were allowed to keep the uniforms.

I was assigned as the interpreter and assistant to Col. Antonio Rodriguez, IOC member from Argentina. Col. Rodriguez is 76 years old. Word was that his wife was very ill and unable to travel, and that he would be coming by himself. We met on Sunday, February 3, and he asked me to meet his wife and daughter. The wife could not have been over 40, and the daughter was 15 years old. That evening I received a call from the Salt Lake Operating Committee (SLOC) advising me that Rodriguez’ wife had met a young volunteer who spoke Spanish and liked to ski, and since she was a skier, she wanted him for their assistant, and so I was transferred to the General Secretary of the National Olympic Committee from Spain, Victor Sanchez. Victor’s secretary was Valerie Enault, born in France, but living in Spain.

As an interpreter to an NOC or IOC member, I was classed as a T1 driver, which meant that I was assigned a vehicle for the duration and was the chauffeur for assigned person.. T2 drivers were allotted vehicles, but were chauffeurs to more than one individual. T3 drivers were not issued a particular vehicle, but comprised the motor pool and drove as they were assigned in whatever vehicle was available.

General Motors provided 5000 Chevrolet Sport Utility Vehicles for the use of SLOC during the Olympics. After the games they were delivered to local GM auto agencies for sale. I was issued a Chevy Tahoe with 34 miles on it. When I turned it in it had some 1200 or so miles. At 750 miles we were given a pen. There were also gifts at 1500 and 3000 miles. Although I had not traveled yet 1500 miles the person in charge gave me the 3000 mile gift because I was so old–a nice stainless steel travel mug to use in the car. We also received Olympic pins for every six days worked. I received two of those. We were also issued cell phones so that we could maintain contact with our guest and the SLOC officials.

Security at the Olympics was extremely tight. We had to wear photo accreditation badges wherever we went that were coded to allow entrance into specific areas. My badge had the following accreditations: INF–access to all sports venues; OVR–Olympic Village; MPC–main press center; OFH–Olympic Family Hotel; and the number 6, which allowed entrance to all the sites reserved for the IOC and NOC members. I also had a special tag that permitted entrance into the IOC business office section of the Olympic Family Hotel. The OFH (Little America Hotel) was taken over by the SLOC committee, and was for the exclusive residence of IOC and NOC officials.

When checking in for duty we parked in a lot just south of the hotel. If we were to drive across the street to the hotel entrance in order to pick up a passenger, it was necessary to have the car checked by security. Three checking lanes were provided, manned by members of the National Guard. Only the driver could be with the car during the safety check. The trunk and hood were opened and the interior examined thoroughly. The under carriage of the car was examined with mirrors. Any packages or containers in the car were opened and examined. Then a piece of paper was placed on the dash board containing the date and time of the examination. If one did not drive through the check point into the hotel reception area within 30 minutes of the check, it became invalid and had to be repeated before entrance to the hotel was permitted. The automobile check was also established at the Olympic Village, where the athletes stayed, as well as at other sensitive locations. I high chain link fence was erected around the Olympic Family Hotel and the Olympic Village, which was constantly patrolled by armed soldiers.

The SUVs that we were issued were equipped with On-Star. We were allowed free travel from Provo on the south to Ogden on the north and from Heber on the east to the Oquirrh Mountains on the west. If we went outside those limits we could expect a visit by a patrolman who would have been sent to find out where we were going and why. Traffic control to the venues was excellent. Prominent signs were installed on the highway and city streets giving specific directions to the venues. Police cars were stationed every two miles on the freeways between cities to control and maintain traffic flow. The traffic delays were much less than anticipated.

In order for any person, including the volunteers, to enter any residence or sports venue the person had to pass through a check point where any packages or purses were opened and examined; the cell phone had be turned on and operated in the presence of one of the safety personnel to verify that it was an operable phone. Coats had to be opened and hats removed, and the person had to pass through a magnetometer to check for the presence of any metal device. Before going through the magnetometer all coins and other metal objects had to be removed and collected on the other side. In spite of the strict security measures, they went smoothly and efficiently, and no one seemed to object to them.

On Wednesday, February 6, the Olympic Volunteers were allowed to attend the dress rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony, held in the University of Utah Rice-Eccles Stadium. The only difference between the rehearsal and the actual ceremony the following Friday was that there were no athletes parading around the stadium. I went with another volunteer from Ogden in a group of four. I was picked up at 3:00 PM. We drove into Woods Cross where we parked the van and took public transportation to the stadium, arriving about 5 PM. Incidentally, all public transportation was free to anyone with an accreditation badge. The checkpoint entry lines to enter the stadium were long, and it took us over an hour and a half to get through. The warm-up started at 6PM and the ceremony started at 7PM, and lasted until about 9:30. The temperature that night was 10 degrees above zero, and it was COLD! Rather than wearing my SLOC uniform, I wore a thick sweater, a snowmobile suit and my leather flight jacket, that I used when flying the Starduster in cold weather. It kept me warm enough, except for my feet. I honestly thought that I was going to have frost bite before the thing was over. The ceremony itself was absolutely spectacular! Hollywood would have been green with envy at such a production.

The opening ceremony was held on Friday, Feb. 8, and the Spanish delegation was free on that day. One of their members expressed an interest in looking up his ancestry, and so I arranged a time at the Family History Center followed by a VIP tour through the 21,000-seat Church Conference Center. Present in the group were Victor Sanchez, the Gen. Sec. of the Spain NOC and his secretary, Valerie Enault; the president of the NOC, Alfredo Goyaneche; Eduardo Roldán, an advisor assigned to the 2010 Olympics to be held in Jaca, Spain; Feliciano Mayoral, who was some sort of a general secretary to some Olympics organization; Juan Antonio Gomez Angulo, Secretary of State for Sports; and the U.S. Ambassador from Spain.

Alfredo Goyeneche has an engineering firm that had the contract for the engineering services in the Madrid Temple, so he was particularly interested in the Conference Center. Our tour guide in the Conference Center was the Center director, and the church architect came along to treat any questions Goyeneche may have had.

When we left the center, we crossed South Temple Street in the walkway at mid-block to go to the Crossroads Mall where our car was parked. The traffic coming from the west was stopped at a red light, so I led the group across the street. As we started out the light changed. I hurried across the street and the group remained on an island in the center. I had to run to keep from being hit by the police car immediately preceding the limousine carrying President Bush from the airport. He waved at the crowd on the side walk (probably shook his fist at me) and stopped in the next block at the Church Office Building to visit with President Hinckley.

I witnessed the following sports events, and with my No. 6 accreditation was able to sit in the sections reserved for the IOC and NOC officials. The 30 Km, 10 Km and 50 Km cross country ski races at Soldier Hollow. The Athlete from Spain was Johan Muehlegg. Johan left Germany because of disputes with the German Olympic Committee and moved to Spain to be their participant. In the 30 Km race he came in a full 2 minutes ahead of the second and third place winners. There were two 10 Km races–one in the morning and one in the afternoon, separated by a rest period of two hours. Meuhlegg won the morning heat by over a minute; in the afternoon run he inadvertently placed his pole inside the ski and fell down. He got up, continued the race, stopped to pick up a Spanish flag near the finish line and came in first by over 30 seconds.

In the 50 Km race each contestant started 30 seconds after the preceding contestant. First in line was the athlete from Russia. Muehlegg started number 8. There are check points along the route to time the athletes. Muehlegg quickly fell to 15 seconds behind the leader, who was the Russian contender, then to 30 seconds behind. He stayed at this separation for 45 kilometers. Then, with five kilometers and 12 minutes left in the race, he picked up speed and came in first by 15 seconds–gaining an amazing 45 seconds in the last 12 minutes of the race. So he was awarded the gold medal for all three races. Shortly after the race he was tested for drugs and it was found that he had used an oxygen-enhancing drug to increase his endurance, and the 50 Km gold medal was taken from him and awarded to the Russian competitor.

During the race I sat between the Russian and Spanish delegations. The Russians waited until Muehlegg came in, and when it was announced that he had taken first place, the Russians all got up and left the stands.

We also attended the women’s downhill race at Snow Basin, near Ogden; the half-pipe snow board competition at Park City Mountain Resort; the two-woman bobsled race at Utah Olympic Park; the hockey match between Canada and Czechoslovakia at the E-Center in Salt Lake; and at my friend, Richard Spencer’s invitation, we attended the ski jumping portion of the Nordic Combined at Utah Olympic Park.

On Thursday, Feb.14, the Spanish delegation invited myself and two other assistants to dinner at the Olive Garden in downtown Salt Lake where we were presented with a very nice silk neck tie and a delicate wrist watch decorated with the Spanish Coat of Arms and the Olympic symbol.

On another evening I drove Victor to a banquet at the Hilton Hotel near the U of U campus. I picked him up at 8:30 and the banquet started at 9:00. So I stayed at the hotel in order to drive him back. Becoming a little thirsty I went into the bar–the restaurant had closed–and noticed a young man playing pool by himself at a pool table near the bar. He soon asked me to play with him, so we played six games. I then wandered off and found a ping pong table in another part of the hotel. So I rushed back and invited my new friend to play a little ping pong. That activity took up a couple of hours of the evening. We left the hotel about some time after midnight, and I got home at 1:30 AM.

The 50 Km cross country was held on Saturday, Feb. 23, and Victor Sanchez was scheduled to return to Spain the next morning. When I called to confirm his departure time for the airport, Victor informed me that he was not leaving until the next Tuesday, as he had been up all night long meeting with the IOC over the Muehlegg fiasco. I had to turn my car in on Monday Feb. 24, so Victor had to use the hotel transportation to get himself to the airport.

I volunteered as a general driver for Monday and was assigned to take a delegate from Bulgaria to the airport. We left his hotel at 10:00 AM and his plane left at 3:00 PM. Arriving at the airport we found the lines for ticket confirmation extended outside the terminal buildings and wound back and forth, it seemed, without end. So I pulled into the inside lane, announcing at the control point that I had an international passenger, and drove up to Delta door 11. I went to get my guest a baggage cart, but they were all taken. However, I spied a person with an empty cart who was returning it, acquired the cart, loaded his luggage and pushed the cart into the terminal. Inside the terminal in one of the lines my guest spied an acquaintance. I recommended that he stay with his acquaintance and left the area, so he probably made his flight.

I turned my SUV in that afternoon. We received a separation package from SLOC which contained a couple more pins and a nice Pulsar wrist watch containing the Olympic logo. On the net the watch sells for about $150.00. Since they gave 24,000 of them away, I would imagine that the purchase price was somewhat less that the retail–and the watches were probably donated to the committee.