Friday, February 05, 2010

One Week

Another reason to be excited about the Olympics...

Brighton resident part of Olympic magic

BRIGHTON -- Like millions of people, John Stewart dreamed of Olympic stardom as a kid.

And, like millions of people, he didn't achieve those dreams, at least athletically.

But unlike the rest, Stewart found another way to live his Olympic dream. With the Vancouver Winter Olympics set for February, the Brighton native moved to Whistler, B.C., in 2007 with the hopes of finding a part to play in the Games. With no relevant experience, he applied for a job on the track crew at the Whistler Sliding Centre, where the bobsled, luge and skeleton events will be contested. Not only did he get the job, he was soon named foreman of one of the track crews, and has spent the last two years working to create "the fastest track in the world."

"Everything a Zamboni does, we do by hand," explained Stewart, of the work he and his crew must do to prepare the track for the Olympics.

But while the driver of an ice resurfacer has the benefit of working on a flat surface, the workers in Whistler must contend with a 1.5 kilometre stretch of ice that twists, turns and dives, with a vertical drop of 152 metres. Even when wearing special boots with spikes in the bottom, slips are hardly uncommon, and when they happen, it's a long ride down to the bottom.

"It's not a job for the faint of heart," he said, noting how workers are often covered in snow, ice and water throughout their long days.

But if you can handle the work, it's very rewarding.

"It's a job you can take pride in. It brings out the perfectionist in you," he said.

"Our job is to make the track as fast and safe as possible."

By all accounts, Stewart and his team have succeeded. The track has been studied and used by athletes, spectators, broadcasters, and officials, many of whom have shared their belief that it's the best slide in the world. That's a source of immense pride for Stewart.

"It's the first time I've put my hands on something that's considered the best in the world. It's a real good feeling. This is a special place," he said. "It's going to be a crown jewel of the Olympics, (and) it will continue to be the preeminent track in the world for years to come."

When Stewart isn't working, he and his girlfriend can be found snowboarding across Whistler's incredible slopes. He has even taken the opportunity to bobsled down the track himself, not just for fun, but to better understand the feedback the athletes give him.

The rush that goes along with it is just a bonus.

After two years of work, the big moment is less than a month away, and Stewart and his crew will be working hard to ensure the slide is in pristine condition as the world's top athletes go for gold.

"Ever since I was a little kid, I've been enthralled by the Olympics," he said. "It's going to be a big party, (and) I'll be there in the thick of it. It will be incredible. I can't wait."

(article from The Brighton Independent)

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