Day 16: Star-struck

Particularly popular athletes are regularly ambushed by enthusiastic fans, including volunteers. Source: Alexey Kudenko / RIA Novosti

Particularly popular athletes are regularly ambushed by enthusiastic fans, including volunteers. Source: Alexey Kudenko / RIA Novosti

Constant contact with world-renowned sports stars is one of the more exciting aspects of our work at the Sochi Olympics.

As you grow used to it, your excitement at such encounters decreases. You simply run out of strength for any strong emotional reactions. You go about your business, suddenly collide with someone, raise your eyes and see French biathlon medalist Martin Fourcade, champion snowboarder Shaun White or famous skier Marcel Hirscher.

When you have seen these people in all sorts of everyday situations, their stardom fades and all you see are ordinary people.

But some volunteers still have difficulty keeping their emotions in check. Although we are banned from sidling up to athletes during the sporting events, let alone ask them for autographs or for a picture, every now and then you hear an excited yell: "Look here, that's me and [Russian ice hockey player Alexander] Ovechkin with the Shayba [hockey arena] in the background!"

Particularly popular athletes are regularly ambushed by enthusiastic fans, including volunteers, but for volunteers, the punishment for getting close to your favorite competitor is quite serious – you can even be sent home.

A friend working at the Laura ski and biathlon complex recently told me this story: she was traveling in a cable car with two other volunteer girls and a lady in an athletic outfit, who seemed completely preoccupied with her mobile phone.

The girls started complaining in Russian, quite loudly and emotionally, how they were missing out on all the fun of having their photos taken with athletes and getting autographs. The problem is, one of them said, that we don't know what any of the famous athletes look like.

My friend bit her lip to keep from laughing while the lady with the phone smiled broadly. The other girls did not suspect that they were traveling in the company of Armenian skier Yustina Kovalchik, who knows enough Russian to understand what they were saying.

It is different with the less popular sports. Newly minted Olympic medalists, not yet used to popular fame, are quite happy to pose for photos and give autographs. Press attaches of national teams try to stop this practice but often allow informal contacts with their charges.

Sometimes funny things happen: colleagues approach you timidly and ask to identify the athlete whose photo they took with their mobile phones.

And there is of course a fair share of infatuations going on among the volunteers. This should be no surprise given that there are plenty of attractive athletes around. It is often the case that someone fails to complete a given task by getting a glimpse of her crush and forgetting all about work.

Fortunately by now, most of us have learned to suppress our emotions and channel our inspiration into getting the job done.

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