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Volunteers: An Integral Part of 2002 Olympics - 2002-01-04

Volunteers are an integral part of the Olympics. They are the face of the city to the world. In Salt Lake City, Utah, residents who want to become volunteers at the 2002 Winter Games in February have to conquer many obstacles to earn a spot on the volunteer team.

It's not easy to become a volunteer at the 2002 Games. Nearly 70,000 people applied for about 23,000 available positions. The selection process was tough and intense. The candidates had to go through interviews, background checks conducted by state agencies, and complete several training sessions before being chosen as a volunteer. Ed Enyon, senior Vice President of Human Resources and International Relations for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, or SLOC, thinks it will result in the best volunteer force ever at any Olympic Games.

"Poise under pressure was one of the behavioral things we were looking at," explains Mr. Enyon. "We need volunteers that can find ways to diffuse frustration and anger and find ways to make people happy for even being there."

Making Olympic guests happy is a major theme at the meetings. The volunteers are called "Team 2002 in training." At the training sessions they are instructed on how to behave during the Games. At a recent session, SLOC member Tara Anderson passed out plastic kazoos to the 30 or so trainees sitting quietly in the room.

"Like any good team, Team 2002 has a game plan, says Ms. Anderson. " 'Charge' stands for the different traits that we expect every team member to encompass; committed, helpful, adaptable, respectful, gracious, enjoy. I have kazoos here for everyone. You hum or you talk into the long end here, give a little tut and see how it works."

Like a group of high school cheerleaders, the crowd belts out the "Team 2002" chant.

Spirit and good manners are what SLOC hopes to instill in the volunteers. Ms. Anderson wants the hospitality of the Utah volunteers to surpass the hospitality of the Sydney Summer Olympic volunteers. To help, SLOC provides tips on how to act and deal with visitors from other countries, tips like how to smile and topics of conversation to avoid.

"A smile works great with everyone, maybe not with too many teeth, that's kind of scary for some people. We are going to refer to our guests as international visitors, not foreigners. Avoid discussing politics and religion," she says.

But not all of the volunteers are happy about all of the lessons on how to behave and talk during the Olympics. At a coffee shop in downtown Salt Lake City, John Arron and Libby McGain discuss why they decided to quit "Team 2002."

"Well, I felt like I just fell off the face of the earth with them. I was interviewed, went through some of the training, and then when it came to the Olympic scandal, they told you not to address any particular points and just say 'we've moved past it and now we're onto the Games themselves.' They wanted you to be vague about anything that you could be quoted in the press about," explains John.

"I felt like they had no organization and that I wasn't being used for the skills that I had. It discourages me a little, I just don't think that they are using the people they have to the best of their ability and it kind of makes me sad that that's the case," says Libby.

Despite all the "dos and don'ts" of volunteering for the Games, plenty of people are sticking with the Team and forging ahead with preparations for the Winter Olympics. At the training session, some of the volunteers explain what they hope to get out of the experience.

"Being unified as a country and as a world is important to me," says a volunteer. "I guess the thrill of the competition and seeing all the people," says another.

The selective application process, the sometimes silly and boring training sessions filled with videos and tactics aimed at invoking enthusiasm, are likely to foster a team of dedicated volunteers. At least, that is the hope of SLOC. In February, the world will find out if "Team 2002" is, in fact, the best group of volunteers ever seen at any Olympic Games.