Chevrolet dealers across the United States contributed millions of dollars to train athletes for the 2002 Winter Olympics, and as a reward the biggest sponsors were outfitted with Norwegian sweaters, ski pants and boots, and sent to Salt Lake City to enjoy the results firsthand.
Local Chevy dealer Rob Skinner and his wife, Kimberly, were among them, flying to Utah on Feb. 6 and returning Feb. 13.
"It was a tremendous opportunity for us, the dealership and the community," said Rob, whose dealership was a major sponsor of the Olympic Torch Run in Juneau in January. "I saw the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984, but I was living there and it was different."
"It was very exciting to be there in person after watching it on television for so many years," Kimberly said.
She especially was impressed by behind-the-scenes glimpses of the games. "At every venue, there were hundreds of volunteers working to make it an enjoyable experience."
"Chevy had us booked from the minute we got to the airport," Rob said. "We were given gifts and escorted everywhere. My wife and I are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and hoped to see some church history, but we were on the run from 6 a.m. to midnight every day." The Mormon Church is headquartered in Salt Lake City.
The couple requested tickets to see Alan Alborn, an Anchorage ski jumper.
"It was exciting to have that little bit of being tied to it," Kimberly said. She collected autographs from gymnasts Bart Connor and Nadia Comaneci and met the American bobsled team and several snowboarders. One of the highlights, she said, was seeing a demonstration by skiers and snowboarders of training on trampolines.
Because of the crush of visitors trying to reach venues, visitors were rewarded with collectible pins if they walked. "You walked uphill a mile to each event, so after that you were wondering where the oxygen was," said Rob.
The opening ceremonies on Feb. 8 impressed the Skinners with their coordination and the famous guests.
"On your seat was a white poncho so the stands would be white (background)," Rob said. "And you got a folded card that spelled out part of the theme, 'Light the fire within.' We were in the 'the.' "
They also were given flutes that played one of four notes.
"Directions on a big screen told us when to play when representatives of the five Native American tribes of Utah came in," Rob said. "There were 50,000 people playing flutes.
"There wasn't a dry eye in the place when policemen from New York City sang the national anthem and the flag that flew at the World Trade Towers was carried in," Rob said.
Security was tight at the entrance to each venue. Kimberly described it as "10 times the Juneau airport." Bags were searched every time they entered an event. Among security personnel were FBI agents and police officers from all over the United States. "We were actually stopped once in a bus because there was a bomb threat in the road," Rob said.
"The fun part of the trip was trading pins," said Rob, showing off representations of a pink Cadillac with flashing taillights, bowls of Jello-O with pineapple and cottage cheese (green gelatin is considered Utah's official potluck dish), and dozens of others.
The most valuable pin they had to trade was the Chevy VIP guest pin; they netted 80 others for it. "There were only 72 dealers the week we were there," so those pins were rare, Rob said.
Rob was thrilled by the universal actions of the spectators.
"All of the fans cheered collectively for great things," he said. "I was so impressed by that attitude. We would be surrounded by Swedes, Latvians and Soviets, but when someone would do anything great, the lines of segregation seemed to disappear and everyone would be out of their seats. It was an incredible community of world spirit."
Skinner, who has been in the car business for 20 years, moved to Alaska in May 1996 and worked with his partner at the Kenai Chevy dealership for five and a half years. The couple moved to Juneau in February 2001. They have four daughters: Kaitlyn, 8; McKenzie, 6; Joslyn, 5; and Jade, 19 months. The girls stayed with grandparents in Boise, Idaho, during the trip.
he Skinners are not the only Juneauites to visit the Olympics. A quartet of residents is working as a course crew: Wyatt Fournier, Sandy Miller, Brant Oliphant and David Lowell. They are all Juneau-Douglas High School graduates, lifelong skiers and former members of the Juneau Ski Team.
Rising at 4 a.m. daily, "They are working 12- or 13-hour days setting courses, and it is unlikely that they will be able to attend the big events of the Olympics due to the demands of their work," said Kathleen Rhea, Fournier's mother. "We are very proud of them!"
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at email@example.com.