Locals score their Olympic experiences | PostIndependent.com

Locals score their Olympic experiences

They’re racking up Olympic moments every bit as fast as the Apolo Ohnos and Jim Sheas of the U.S. Team. Though they won’t have medals to show for it, they’re bringing home a load of memories.

Local residents have been volunteering, attending, and otherwise getting involved with the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Tired, sunburned, and sometimes frustrated by certain aspects of the Olympics, they’re expressing no regrets about the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“There were all kinds of little glitches, but it was still fun, and we were glad that we were there,” said Joan Chaffin, a Glenwood Springs resident who attended several competitions with her family.

Dixie and Dion Luke of Glenwood Springs, who volunteered in venue preparation the week before the Games, had such a good time they’re already talking about whether they might try to volunteer or at least attend the next Summer Games in Athens, Greece.

“We just may,” Dixie Luke said, still coming down off the high of an experience that included seeing a dress rehearsal of the Opening Ceremonies.

While getting to Athens may be quite a proposition for valley residents, the Salt Lake Games were only a six-hour drive away. Many locals decided not to miss an Olympics this close to home.

They weren’t the only ones. Luke said law professors and business executives did menial work like shoveling snow because the Olympics had come to them and they wanted to be a part of it.

The Lukes helped ready the Opening Ceremonies venue.

“They had a little ice in the stadium and they wanted every drop removed,” Dixie Luke said. So they pitched in to chip the ice away and otherwise cleaned up the stadium.

For their efforts, they were rewarded by getting to witness the Opening Ceremonies dress rehearsal, where they saw most of the same events that later occurred at the actual event, minus a few surprises such as the final torchbearers.

Luke said that event was so action-packed, she realized it couldn’t be captured on TV.

The Lukes also went to the ski jumping venue to see some preliminary rounds, but they were canceled because of high winds, so they spent the day sightseeing in Park City. Just seeing the jumping hill was “phenomenal,” she said.

The Lukes never made it to any competitions, but enjoyed seeing the sights in Salt Lake. They were impressed by the security and transportation systems in place in town and at the venues.

“It wasn’t just a show of security. They were being extremely, extremely cautious,” said Luke, who had hesitated to go the Games after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

Chaffin found the logistics surrounding the Games to be time-consuming and frustrating. Food was lacking at outside venues, and transportation and other delays turned attending any venue into an all-day affair. Her days were made longer yet because the Chaffins were lodged two hours away at a Nevada hotel, due to higher prices being charged closer to venues.

She remembers being among 16,000 people emptying out of the luge venue and funneled onto a 20-foot-long, two-person-wide bridge.

“I couldn’t believe it. None of us could believe it, none of the 16,000 people there could believe it,” she said.

Like the Lukes, the Chaffins also took in some of the downtown free Olympic activities, such as mini luge, hockey, curling and other activities offered by sponsoring entities.

“They tried to have fun things going on, but it was all behind their own commercial tent. I wish the commercialism wasn’t there,” she said.

She also found the Olympics to be “tainted” a bit by people handing out religious brochures and books downtown.

Luke was pleasantly surprised, however, when she went to do family genealogy research for some friends at a center operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was met only by a courteous, helpful staff.

“They seemed to be going out of their way to not have any religious overtones,” she said. “They were here to help, and that was the total picture.”

Despite certain drawbacks, the Chaffins will be left with many positive memories, from watching the Mormon Tabernacle Symphony practice, to seeing such events as hockey, men’s figure skating and women’s skiing.

They also saw Ohno and the rest of the U.S. team participate in the somewhat unique speedskating relay.

“All of us, we’re just looking at each other, (saying) `What is that?’ It was just a kick in the pants, it was so fun to watch, and we were there.”

That summed up their Olympic experience in general.

“It was exhausting but great fun,” she said.

At last report, another Glenwood couple, Lloyd and Marlene Manown, was continuing to keep the torrid pace at the Olympics as volunteers. In an e-mail, they told of starting each day at 3:30 a.m. and ending it at 4 p.m.

They have been working as radio operators.

“We monitor and problem solve for such departments as medical, telecom, law enforcement, course marshals, course `jury’ (judges), transportation, food services, spectator services, etc. It gets pretty crazy at times!” the Manowns wrote in their e-mail.

The Manowns had hoped to get some “reasonable” tickets to a skating event but weren’t having much luck.

“Tickets are selling and/or sold at or above our common man’s budget. That part has been discouraging but . reality,” they wrote.

However, they got to watch some of the women’s aerial practices, and also enjoyed a night at the Medals Plaza. It included a concert by the Bare Naked Ladies.

“The group is from Canada, and they played the evening of the controversial figure skating silver medal to the Canadians so they had a few choice things to say,” they wrote.

They also have enjoyed the nightly parades involving “some of the most beautiful pieces of the Opening Ceremonies, including all of the animals, the fish, the trees, etc. It was fun to see it a little more close-up than our seats at the dress rehearsal.”

All in all, the Manowns report having a good time. Like the Lukes, they’re already thinking ahead.

“Anyone want to join us as volunteers in Athens, Greece? .” they wrote.

Cate Love of Glenwood Springs is viewing the Olympics in Salt Lake from a perspective different from many area residents. She and her husband, Jim, have been spending their winters on ski patrol duty at Snowbird, a resort near the city.

“Salt Lake is a different city,” she marveled. “It’s usually a pretty quiet place. It’s like Glenwood; It folds up at 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock at night during the week. But (now), people are walking around, it’s vibrant.”

She doesn’t expect the change to last past the Olympics.

“I hope so, but I doubt it,” she said.

As to all the speculation about the Olympics bringing more people to the city, she mused, “I don’t know, they have pretty big mountains in France.”

While Snowbird isn’t an Olympic venue, even it has seen increased security during the Games, along with some celebrity visits.

“We’ve had a few sightings up at the ‘Bird, of athletes,” she said.

One of them was of Kathy Freeman, the Australian whose specialty is running, not skiing.

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