The Olympic Games captivate the world unlike any other event. For two weeks, the world watches in awe as the greatest athletes in the world compete for their countries on the world’s biggest stage. For many of us, this means watching our favourite events on TV day after day.
The experience of Dal Tigers women’s soccer player Kristy McGregor-Bales was a little different than most. She got the chance to represent Canada as a volunteer at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, something she got to experience as a volunteer at the Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. She was encouraged to do so by her mother, who had volunteered at the 2010 Vancouver and 2008 Beijing games.
The games in Russia were under intense international scrutiny as the games neared. There were concerns of potential security and terrorist threats, alleged packs of wild dogs all over Sochi, and journalists took to social media to voice their displeasures over the facilities in Sochi, which were in a state of chaotic construction.
McGregor-Bales put any possible worries she had to the side as she prepared to make the trek to Russia.
“I just did this whole ‘ignorance is bliss’ thing. The less I read or heard, the happier I was,” she says. “People would ask me all the time if I was scared, and I started to think that maybe I should be.”
Luckily, her first surprise as she landed in Sochi a week before the games was the near tropical climate, with palm trees and 18 degree temperatures replacing the snow and cold in Halifax. Coming so early, Kristy got to see first-hand the mad scramble to get the games ready in such a short time.
“There were definitely things you’d see that weren’t completely ready, like random stairwells leading to nowhere. Getting there when I did, you really saw the mad dash to get things done. You’d see people planting flowers all over the place, trying to make things look better.”
Before the Games started, she worked wherever she was needed, doing things like outfitting the athletes for their apparel for the opening ceremonies, where she got to meet high-profile athletes like women’s hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser, Canada’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies.
Amid all of the festivities and excitement, people around the world held their breath hoping the Olympics would remain incident-free and no one would be harmed. The highest threat level was raised during the opening ceremonies, and she was in the Canada Olympic House, just 100m from the gigantic ceremony. She shuttered as she heard a large bang that day, and for a second she panicked thinking the world’s fears had been realized.
Then, just seconds later, she realized she forgot what time it was, and the opening ceremonies had kicked off with a giant fireworks display. Crisis averted.
Once the Games began, she began working in the Canada House, which served as a “home away from home” for Canadian athletes and their families. McGregor-Bales would get to meet medallists Mark McMorris and Michael Kingsbury just one day after they won their medals. She wasn’t the only one who was star struck, and she remembers a time when gold medallist Alex Bilodeau was ecstatic to meet hockey players Martin St. Louis and Mike Smith.
“Bilodeau came up to Marty (St. Louis) and Mike Smith asking if he could take a picture with them, but it was amazing to see when these NHL stars were just as excited to take a picture with him! It was amazing to see the camaraderie and pride that the athletes shared.”
She also got to experience the thrilling come from behind women’s hockey gold medal game, where Canada came back after being down 2-0 with just five minutes left to stun the Americans in overtime 3-2. She was just one section over from the athletes and got to hear the friendly chirping between the heated rivals as their countries battled on the ice.
The rest of her experience would go along hitch-free as the Games turned out to be spectacular in every sense of the word. By the time the games ended, people had forgotten about all of their concerns before the games got underway, instead celebrating the accomplishments of the Russian people and the athletes that had competed.
Will she go back to Russia?
“Maybe not right away,” she says. “But it’s definitely something I’d look forward to in the future.”
She admits that there was quite the culture shock when she first got there, but it was something she quickly got used to. She says the people of Russia were very warm, excellent hosts and that it’s an experience she won’t soon forget.
She’s looking forward to getting the chance to volunteer at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she just might get to see Dalhousie’s Olympic hopeful David Sharpe compete in his second Olympics.
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