Salt Lake City, Utah Nov. 6, 2001 (AP by Paul Foy)–A test for an Olympic volunteer: You’re working the downhill ski run, swaddled against the cold, when some wiseguy asks about the Olympic bribery scandal.
What to say?
As little as possible.
That’s the advice in the playbook for Salt Lake’s 30,000 Olympic volunteers. It’s also reinforced by instructors intent on avoiding controversy.
“If you are asked about the bid scandal,” the volunteers’ instruction manual says, “respond simply: There were some challenges in the past, but we are now focused on staging very successful games.”
More curious visitors might find that answer less than satisfying. So Dave Parduhn, training for his job as medals plaza volunteer, tries something more direct: “We just got caught.”
Learning by acting is part of the 12-to-40 hours of training that drivers, hosts, ushers, ticket-takers, parking lot attendants and other Utah volunteers are taking as they prepare to welcome the world to the Feb. 8-24 games.
“Tonight, we’re going to focus on being helpful,” Shari Hubbert tells a group of Olympic volunteers at Salt Lake Community College during a training session last month.
Making the right appearance can matter, too. Hubbert demonstrates the friendly stance, keeping her arms at her side, never crossed. And volunteers never should point a finger while giving directions. That’s considered rude in some cultures.
Instead, Hubbert slowly unfolds an arm to reveal an open palm in a direction. She implores volunteers to drop such Utah idioms as: “It’s a bit down the ways” or “Go toward the big mountains.”
“They all look big,” she says. Volunteers should name specific highways, give Olympic-adjusted drive times and spell out the city’s numbered grid system _ “2100 South” instead of the more colloquial “21st South,” for instance.
As part of the training, Hubbert picks volunteers to act as distressed visitors who have lost cameras or tickets, or they’re cold or cranky.
“How can I help you?” volunteers will ask. They can look under chairs for lost belongings, or escort visitors to a supervisor or warm place, or even offer their own warm jacket.
Translators will be at every Olympic venue, and visitors who speak more obscure languages can find help by cell phone linkups. Utah’s volunteers speak more than 60 languages.
Volunteers can disarm hecklers by approaching with a friendly smile and asking, “Oh, who are you cheering for?” Hubbert said. “Just get them in a conversation.”
To get this far, volunteers must pass criminal background checks, with 3 percent of applicants failing, mostly for drug or alcohol-related convictions during the past five years. That’s not an unusual rate of rejection for any large screening, officials say.
Because twice the number of volunteers needed for the games signed up, many are being turned away and some aren’t getting the jobs of their choice. Others are being dumped into a general volunteer pool, uncertain of their assignment.
They volunteer despite all the hours of training and unpaid work. Many will use vacation time from their jobs.
Parduhn, a sales trainer for car dealers, will work the medals plaza with his wife, Kelly, on a 3-11 p.m. shift for at least 16 of the 17 days of the games.
Asked why he was doing it, Parduhn said, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
For more information on the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, log on to their website at http://www.saltlake2002.com
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press