NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College’s Allison McFarland is going to the Olympics.
Although she is a triple medalist (two gold, one silver) in the 2012 Kansas Senior Olympics, the professor of business and economics is not actually competing in the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 7-23, 2014.
Instead, she’ll be a volunteer, or “event services team member.” Around 180,000 people, most of them from Russia, applied to be Winter Games volunteers. McFarland was one of an estimated 29,000 selected.
Although she has been in academics for 22 years, next January McFarland begins her first-ever sabbatical. Besides the fact that she loves sports, she is particularly interested, she says, “in the tactical planning that surrounds event management.
“Political and social news from Russia have become a regular part of our media coverage,” she adds. “It is my hope that this experience will allow me to better understand the Russian culture and differences in managerial values and leadership styles between our two cultures.”
This won’t be McFarland’s first time participating in a major event, though it may be the biggest.
“As a volunteer and/or facilitator, I have participated in several other large activities,” she says, “including the Michigan Senior Olympics, Symphony in the Flint Hills, Girls on the Run events and the Kansas State High School Track Meet.
“Each year, I serve as field judge for the Kansas State High School Track Meet in Wichita. Even though this meet is identified as the largest track and field event in America, it is near flawless in its organization and operation. I look forward to seeing whether the Winter Games are as well organized.
“It will be interesting to see these event management strategies played out on an international stage.”
Before coming to Bethel, McFarland taught at Western Michigan University, where she helped place interns at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
“My interest in volunteering at the Olympics [also] stems in part from having taught Sport History courses at previous institutions,” she says.
The application process for being selected as a Sochi volunteer began nearly a year ago. All applicants had to complete an English proficiency exam and participate in a lengthy interview.
McFarland’s interview last spring lasted nearly an hour and was conducted via Skype, at 3 a.m. because of the time difference.
“Traveling to eastern Europe will be a new experience,” she continues. “Russian culture is significantly different from Western culture. I am particularly interested in observing how these cultural differences shape management style and decision making processes.”
During the 2014 Winter Games, volunteers will live in specially constructed apartment houses. In addition to their accommodation, the organizing committee will pay for volunteers’ food, provide them with uniforms and transport them to and from their places of work.
The 2014 Olympics mark the first time for the Russian Federation to host the Winter Games (the Soviet Union hosted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow). The host city of Sochi, population 400,000 people, is situated on the Black Sea in Krasnodar, the third largest region in Russia.
The Games will be organized in two clusters: a coastal cluster in Sochi, for ice events, and a mountain cluster in the Krasnaya Polyana Mountains, for skiing and sliding sport events.
For the Topeka Capital-Journal story about McFarland’s journey to the Winter Olympics, see cjonline.com/news/2013-11-30/kansan-live-olympic-dream-she-helped-others-fulfill.