Friday July 23, 2010
Posted by Mihira Lakshman
And, the folks in the green shirts are going above and beyond the call of duty.
Lissie Arsenault, one of 2,500 volunteers, signed up to be a team attaché thinking her language skills would come in handy. She speaks Spanish, French and English.
But translation has only been part of her job.
She is in charge of 15 countries - including the Dominican Republic and El Salvador - with the task of handling several logistical issues, from transportation to meals to safety.
Essentially Arsenault needs to make sure they get from the airport to the starting line with minimal difficulty.
"Mom is not here for them," she said. "So I need to take care of them."
But she's provided more than just routine support. She has been a lifeline for a few athletes.
Take the Dominican example. Four athletes from the Dominican Republic arrived in Halifax on Sunday, the day before the opening ceremony.
No coach. No team leader. Just the Spanish-speaking teenage athletes, who didn't know a word of English, Arsenault said.
Their travel agent didn't book them all the way to Moncton, and they didn't have a clue what to do when they landed, she said.
An official at the airport who realized that they were in Canada for the world juniors, called a professor from Dalhousie University - with Dominican roots - and he came and picked the athletes up in the middle of the night.
They managed to get on a bus to Moncton, Arsenault said.
But when they arrived, they were obviously quite tired.
"One girl, she was sleeping in the warm-up area, and I was telling her 'they're calling you!' She was going to miss her race."
But the sprinter checked her watch, and insisted she had another hour to spare.
"She hadn't changed the time on her watch," Arsenault explained.
So the quick-thinking volunteer dragged her to the starting line.
"Afterwards, she came and thanked me. I was so happy that she qualified for the next round [of the 100 metres]."
Then, there's the story of the racewalker from El Salvador, who arrived alone, without a coach. It's not unusual for athletes to travel without a coach, but the delegations are supposed to have team leaders or support staff.
"She arrived with only $17 in her pocket, and her shoes clearly didn't fit her properly. We got her some new clothes, and Canadians opened up their hearts," Arsenault said.
Another coach-less athlete from Guyana - a 17-year-old boy - arrived after long delays, and told Arsenault that he hadn't eaten in 36 hours. She asked him why, and he said that he had no money to buy any food in the airports.
"I told my husband, and he met us with a hamburger."
Whenever there has been delayed or lost luggage - and it's happened a lot this week - volunteers have been quick to gather care packages of clothing, shoes, and spikes.
They're also being creative.
"I've made business cards with my phone number on it, and taped a quarter to the back," said Mary Laltoo, another team attaché.
As for the athletes arriving without proper support staff or coaches, the IAAF said it hasn't heard of any complaints.
"We have rules and regulations, but we're not the police," IAAF Communications Manager Yannis Nikolaou added.
About the Author
Mihira Lakshman is an avid distance runner and has covered track and field for the CBC, and various other publications, since 2001.
He covered the 2003 Pan-Am Games, as well as several national championships over the past decade. He is also an online editor with Canadian Running magazine.