October 28, 2018

18,000 Perfect Strangers

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir at the Big Four

By Stephen Hunt

Lots of people out there talk about the potential (financial) hazards of building venues from scratch, but most of the venues for 2026 have all been built — 85% of them, 90% if you count training facilities.

Where the 2026 Games will really have to start from scratch is recruiting volunteers.

To pull off 2026, Calgary needs 18,000 of them.

That’s a Saddledome full of volunteers, from every quadrant of the city, donning Canada jackets, and helping to run the show. (versus 10,000 in 1988 when the Olympics themselves were as large as the Paralympics now).

Last week, at the Big Four Building on the Stampede Grounds, Olympic gold medal winners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir dropped by the Calgary Stampede Volunteer Lunch, to talk about what the volunteer spirit has meant to them, and to tell a few stories (and pose for a few hundred photos with volunteers).

Mary Moran, Calgary 2026’s Bid Co President, believes that Calgary’s volunteer culture is one of our city’s not-so-secret superpowers when compared to its 2026 rivals, Stockholm and Italy’s exacta of Cortina-Milan.

“We think volunteerism is one of our competitive advantages,” Moran said.

“We’d love to walk in (to Olympic headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland) and say we’ve already got 20,000 volunteers signed up.”

Perhaps playing to the hometown crowd, while they dined on prime rib and mini-nanaimo bars, Moran said she knows exactly where the first stop on the volunteer recruitment path will be, as well.

“This (the Stampede) is the first place we’re going to come (to recruit volunteers),” she said.

There was a lot of buzz inside the Big Four building Tuesday — for the middle of October — to meet and greet an have a photo taken with the now-retired Olympic champs.

Tessa told a story about a random Canadian volunteer in Vancouver, who one day helped out the parents of their American figure skating rivals, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, when they got lost.

“They asked a volunteer for directions,” Virtue said.

“And (then) that volunteer hopped on a bus (with the parents), transferred to another bus, and walked them all the way down this winding path to another destination.

“And I was so proud that that’s what the international community had as an experience at our Olympic Games in Canada — that they really got a taste of what our maple leaf represents,” she added.

Virtue and Moir — and every other Olympian — have a weirdly close relationship with volunteers, just because of the way it all works at an Olympic Games, where the greatest, most transformational moments of Olympic athletes’ lives often end up being shared most closely with Games volunteers — perfect strangers.

“Even in Sochi, and PyeongChang, there were still Canadian volunteers,” Virtue said, “donning those blue coats.

“And whenever we saw them, in the Olympic Park, in the bubble, we would run up and give them hugs, or show them our medals — we wanted to celebrate because of the impact they had on our career.

“Truthfully, when you win, you don’t really get to celebrate with your family and friends — you don’t see them for days,” she said.

“It’s the volunteer force, it’s the people in close proximity that you share those intimate, vulnerable, special moments with.

“Waiting for doping control,” she added, in a deadpan delivery. “The volunteers are there.

“When Scott went onto the ice, to kiss the Olympic rings in an empty arena — the volunteers are (always) there.

“As we jump into the vehicle to drive to the international broadcasting centre, it’s the volunteers who are high fiving — not even our parents.”

They won’t be skating in 2026, but Moir and Virtue hope to be involved as broadcasters, and judging by their ability to motivate a crowd with words almost as well as they did with skates and sequins and smiles, they will be all-time greats on the mic, too.

 

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