Olympic Effort

    America's eyes will be focused on its finest athletes when the 2018 Winter Olympics kick off in PyeongChang, South Korea this February. But there's a huge team behind Team USA, much of it based in Colorado Springs.

    olympic bobsled prep
    It takes a USA Bobsled team effort to prep and transport sleds. Photo by Molly Choma.

    When Team USA athletes enter the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium for the 2018 Winter Games Opening Ceremony, they will bear the grins of people happy, healthy and ready to ride, slide, ski and curl their way to the podium. Getting to that place has taken intensive training and commitment on their part, but the athletes aren’t the only ones putting in Herculean efforts.

    Behind the scenes is an army of staff and volunteers with the Colorado Springs-based United States Olympic Committee and the National Governing Bodies, or NGBs, for each sport. From medical clinic pharmaceuticals to staffing, housing and nutritional needs, when it comes to the details of a successful Olympics for Team USA, the USOC has been on top of the 2018 Winter Games since 2016.

    “Our specific goal is to ensure that Team USA is as well-prepared as possible to perform at the highest level once they hit the ground in whatever country we’re going to, in this case, PyeongChang, South Korea,” says Rebecca Crawford, senior director of games operations for the USOC.

    Crawford and other Games Operations staff members work closely with two other divisions, Sport Performance and Logistics, to help athletes function at their best. “We’re constantly meeting with them to say, ‘OK, what is it that we need to do? What are potential derailers? How can we help either eliminate those, which is our preference, or minimize those?'” Crawford says.

    Health and wellness is priority number one, primarily for the athletes, but also for all NGB and USOC staff who work the games. “If we’re not healthy, then it’s very possible that an athlete or a coach might catch the flu or a cold or something from us,” Crawford says.

    And health and wellness includes everything from sleeping to eating to relaxing, which means transporting a lot of items from home. Crawford says the USOC ships whatever needs to be shipped that can legally be brought into the country, such as supplemental food for the Performance Service Centers, weather-appropriate podium and leisure apparel, televisions and coffee for the Athlete Resource Centers, and personal bicycles and treadmills. Sleeping is important to athletes, so the USOC also ships extra-long beds for those who can’t fit comfortably in the standard twins on site, along with personal pillows and room-darkening curtains. Crawford has even seen Rice Krispie Treats shipped. “Except our support nutritionists don’t really like for us to put those out,” she says.

    olympic medal stand uniform
    American athletes’ medal-stand uniforms by Nike are designed for warmth, waterproofness-and style. Photo courtesy of USOC.

    Of course, Crawford literally means ships. Lists of needs from NGBs and all USOC‘s departments were compiled by October for ordering and delivery to the Port of Los Angeles. In November, about 300 pallets were packed, shrink-wrapped and ready to be loaded for their six-week Pacific crossing by cargo ship.

    “Our team will be on the ground in mid-January to make sure that everything has arrived,” Crawford says. “It will be warehoused until it gets sent out to all the locations in PyeongChang and [the coastal city of] Gangneung.”

    Products aren’t the only exports. The USOC and NGBs will fly over several hundred staff members who are assigned to different components of a detailed staffing plan determined a year to 18 months in advance. Darrin Steele, CEO of USA Bobsled and Skeleton and former Olympic athlete, says working the Olympics is incredibly hectic.

    “I’ve never seen an eight-hour day at the games,” Steele says. “If we’re awake, we’re either working or eating.”

    And while they do get to attend the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and even march with the athletes if space allows, staff members don’t typically have time to catch any competitions outside their own sport. Of course, Steele says, “You don’t hear a lot of complaining. It’s a huge privilege.”

    The USOC also relies on many short-term contractors and volunteers. The number changes for each Olympics, and volunteers must pay all their own expenses. Crawford says that particularly for PyeongChang, the USOC is trying to work with the U.S. military to recruit volunteers because of their presence in South Korea and the familiarity they already have with the culture.

    The Closing Ceremony takes place on Feb. 25, but that’s not quite the end of the work for Games Operations. They have a transition to help with before heading home.

    “Right after the Olympic Games are the Paralympic Games, so when we do all of this preparation, it’s in total collaboration with our Paralympic Games Operations group,” Crawford says. It’s a smaller operation with fewer athletes and staff: about 75 athletes and perhaps 150 or 200 staff, according to Crawford. “Our goal is exactly the same for the Paralympic Games as it is for the Olympic Games.”

    Really, it all comes back to collaboration across the board in support of the athletes.

    Steele says it’s at the games where USOC and NGB teamwork reaches optimization. “I look at [the USOC and volunteers] kind of like the fire department or triage: I don’t want them at all. I want them to be bored to tears, just going and watching events,” Steele says. “But if we need help, we need help right now, and they always step up. It’s all hands on deck. … When our athletes are on the podium, there’s a lot of people that got them there, and a big part of that is that partnership the NGBs have with the USOC.”

    Numbers Games

    11,976 Cups of Chobani yogurt
    Sent to PyeongChang in 22 varieties.

    6,696 Smucker’s Uncrustable
    At 210 calories each, that’s more than 1.4 million calories in PB&J pockets alone shipped to Korea.

    315 Athletes
    Approximate number of American athletes competing in PyeongChang.

    300+ Pallets that filled 15 Cargo Ship Containers
    Shipped by the USOC to PyeongChang. Placed side by side, those pallets’ length would be equivalent to the height of the Empire State Building.

    102 Gold medal events
    PyeongChang’s total is the most ever contested at a Winter Olympics, including six new medal events: Curling Mixed Doubles, Snowboard Big Air (men’s and women’s), Speed Skating Mass Start (men’s and women’s), and the Alpine Skiing Team Event.

    70 Pieces of apparel and accessories
    Wardrobe provided for each athlete from Nike and Polo Ralph Lauren (Team USA’s official outfitters) and Oakley (official eyewear of Team USA) to clothe them for three cold weeks. PyeongChang’s average temperatures in January range from a high of 39.9 F to a low of 13.1 F.

    44 pounds
    Weight of each official granite curling stone that is crafted and transported specifically for each Olympics by a curling stone business in Scotland.