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'Bell Lady' Halvorson Cheers Olympic Athletes

Around the world, ringing a cowbell has long been associated with cheering for athletic competitors. But it is a fairly new phenomenon at the Olympics. So, who better to ask about the connection between cowbells and the Olympics than Elisabeth Halvorson, who is also known as the "Bell Lady." VOA's Steve Schy met her in Turin.

Elisabeth Halvorson was bitten by the Olympic bug around the age of seven, when she watched the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria, on television. It was at that time she decided she wanted to be in the Olympics. Her parents were both Norwegian and took her skiing on a regular basis.

Elisabeth says she became a pretty good skier growing up in New Jersey, but that the speed of downhill at a race camp she attended scared her. Even so, she ended up becoming an instructor and, at the age of 15, became the youngest national ski patroller in the United States.

Early ski racing in Switzerland was done primarily by dairy farmers on the slopes that served as summer grazing grounds. Their families used bells - each with its own distinctive sound - to cheer them on. The bells made their first Olympic appearance at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

"I have the goat bell and the cow bell," she explained. "I am not musically inclined but you can make a lot of noise."

After college, Elisabeth Halvorson spent most of her time as a self-described "ski-bum" in Utah, before going back to school for her masters degree. The idea of selling the bells hit her while working as a marketing consultant for the Norwegian Trade Council and she became the official supplier of Salt Lake Olympic-logo cowbells.

"The bells were actually the most popular item during Lillehammer in 1994. And, having been a 'ski-bum' in Salt Lake and knowing about the ski industry, it just sounded like so much fun," she said. "And, I thought 'Aha! I can start this business. I can do this.' And, we did. We were the number-two most popular item during the Salt Lake Games."

By this time, Halvorson had given up her dream of competing in the Olympics. But the bells keep her connected to the games.

"I just love the Olympics, the spirit of the Olympics. It is just so much fun to cheer on the athletes. The cheering and the ringing of the bells is a way to help them perform. They feel us cheering them on," she said.

Elisabeth Halvorson has an easy laugh and bubbly personality. Shedriven in her quest to cheer on the athletes and have a good time. But when dressed in wild colors, with a hat topped off by cow horns, she becomes the "Bell Lady."

"Woooooooo! The Olympics! " she exclaimed. "Our whole concept of our business is 'Happy people having fun.' Because life is too short to be grumpy."