When Rick Smith and other members of a Sea to Sky Corridor group that’s in Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics talk about “decoration,” they’re not usually talking about which colour to paint the walls or which curtains to hang.
Colour, however, does play a role in the job the volunteer group is undertaking during the Games.
Smith, a retired school administrator from Squamish, is part of a team of 11 Canadians leading the decoration crew for ski-jumping portion of the Nordic combined competitions that will take place Feb. 12, 18 and 20 at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Centre in the Caucacus Mountains outside Sochi.
The local team, most of whom gained their experience before, during and since the 2010 Winter Olympics in the Callaghan Valley, is leading a larger contingent of Russian volunteers in preparing the 105- and 140-metre jumps — ensuring that the “in-run” and “out-run” of each jump has the proper markings for the three days of competition.
That includes a series of lines and banners designed to help the athletes gauge their position and distance as they soar at something like 100 km/h through the air, and help scoring officials properly measure the jumpers’ distance.
As Smith explained, the crew’s job is to ensure that lines are placed every 10 metres in the landing area or “out-run” as part of the video distance calculation system. The most important is the K-mark or K-line, which is the distance for which the hill is designed (in the case of Whistler Olympic Park, 105 and 140 metres). If, while training, jumpers are soaring well beyond the K-mark, officials will sometimes move the start position down the in-run to ensure safety and fairness, Smith said.
There are also three sets of banners alongside the hills — blue (close to the K-mark), red (close to the hill’s design size) and green (for the point where the landing area starts to flatten out).
“They [jumpers] need to see that as they’re moving from 95 to 105 km/h,” Smith said. “It’s a blur to them and they have to have some sort of sense of where they are on the hill that they’re landing on.”
Evergreen twigs are also placed in lines every 20 metres along the out-run as a way to help the jumpers visually gauge their position.
Members of Sea to Sky group — which includes Squamish residents Smith, John L’Hirondelle, Jim Vanderhook and Soren Robinson — answered surveys given to volunteers during the 2010 Games in which they expressed interest in helping with future Games. But it wasn’t until the World Cup ski jumping/Nordic combined event in December 2012 in the Callaghan that they were invited to help out with a World Cup event in February 2013 — an Olympic “test” event for facilities in the Krasnaya Polyana region, Smith said.
After that event, Sochi 2014 organizers said they wanted the same crew to return to help out with this month’s Games. Smith said the group — which also includes his wife Yvonne, who plans to work in the race office — was honoured to oblige.
“Two things: One is, why wouldn’t you want to try and help someone make this athletic event the best it can possibly be? And from a personal level, what an exciting opportunity, to be part of this event,” Smith said.
Smith said the group of Russians with whom the Canadians worked last year is mostly people in their 20s and 30s. The country doesn’t have a well-developed tradition of volunteerism — there isn’t even a word in Russian for “volunteer” — and only a couple members of the group are 40 or over, he said.
“They [the young Russian volunteers] said, ‘We’d be happy to help, but someone had better show us what to do,’” Smith said. “So the organizers went out to the hosts of the previous Games and asked whether we’d help do that, and we agreed to do it.”
The five mentioned previously aren’t the only Squamish residents taking part in the Games. John Heilig, sport manager of Whistler Olympic Park and a Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS)-certified technical delegate for ski jumping and Nordic combined, is serving as head of jury for the 2014 Games Nordic combined events.
“We will be working closely with him on the hill,” he said, “because he’s the guy who has to make the call on whether we’ve done our job right.”