From the Spencer Fox Eccles building to Sochi: Business major Sarah Parker takes on the Olympics

Business Operations major Sarah Parker, who is also working on a minor in Russian Language, had the chance to put her business savvy and Russian skills to the test with a position at the Sochi Olympic Games. She shares her experience, and some amazing photos, with us here. 

Sarah writes:  

Years ago, I was bumming around in my friend’s attic and found a book face-down on the floor. I picked it up out of curiosity or boredom, and read from the center of the book about the General’s three beautiful daughters, who run the household. That book was “The Idiot” by Dostoevsky. It’s now my favorite book of all time.

After Dostoevsky, I started in on Tolstoy and other Russian authors, and I was struck with their interesting psychology. I began to be interested in Russia the country.

I thought I’d go there (I like traveling,) but I wanted to pick up a little of the language. What I didn’t know is that you don’t pick up a little Russian. I started taking language courses at the U and fell headlong into the cultish world of Russia lovers. There are dozens of us!

When the Olympics came to SLC I brushed them off as just a big sports event, until I saw the excitement it caused and started to sense the scope. Then I checked out a videocassette from the library with a title like “Olympic Moments in History” and fell in love with the Olympic movement. Around the time of the London Games, I conceived of the idea of somehow getting to the Sochi Olympics. It was destiny–the Olympics and Russia in one combined moment!


I’m earning a degree in Business Operations with a minor in Russian Language. I feel that any time I spend in Russia improves my language and increases my potential to work in the field of international business.

I didn’t know how to get involved, but luckily I discovered volunteering. Behind the scenes of all Olympics there is an army of volunteers that deal with guest relations, hotels, parking and transportation, and language translation.  From 2012, I was working on getting a position. I landed a “volunteer” position with the Sochi Olympic Organizing Committee. The deal was that each volunteer pays their own way to the games, but the Volunteer Committee paid for our room and board and a few meals during work shifts. They asked for a multi-week commitment and the ability to use the English language.

My job at the games ended up being quite prestigious. Because I am a native English speaker, I was paired with an American official who was very highly respected in both the National and International Olympic committees. I was sort of a hostess for the guest, and specifically, my job was to order and arrange for his transportation.


Because of my position, (and, I suspect, because I am American) I was given a lot of special treatment. I received a high security accreditation, which allowed me access to every venue. I received thousands of dollars of volunteer apparel and gear (full ski wear, multiple daily outfits, shoes, boots, duffel bag, backpack, and more). During training, we toured every venue in both the Mountain Cluster and the Coastal Cluster.

The area was beautiful, mysterious, and exotic. I was there for about a month, so I really got to tour around the city as well as the Olympic areas. Sochi has a really well-developed resort culture, and the coastlines are rows and rows of boardwalks and resorts all along the Black Sea. Some are old relics of the Soviet era, with crumbling gardens and jungle-looking vines creeping over the stone balconies. And some are super-modern high rises.


Now that they’re over, we know that the games were without security incident, but in the time leading up to the opening, there was an intense expectation of trouble. But the security of the venues was extremely thorough, and generally pretty efficient.

My guest had been directly involved with many Olympics and he, his family and staff, were all very impressed with the venues, their accommodations, the security, and the transportation systems at Sochi. There was a definite advantage in building the entire enterprise from the ground up.

That brings me to a point I’d like to clear up. I heard a lot about how sad the situation would be when the Olympic were over for Sochi. There seems to be a media consensus that there’s “nothing there” to utilize the developed spaces. But that is a very strange assessment. The Coastal Cluster is structured as a Formula One Race Track.  A Disney-style theme park (complete with an obviously copied fairy tale castle) opened during the Olympics. The mountain developments completely modernized the ski resorts. And the city itself is home to nearly 400,000 people (double the population of SLC.) I’m sure they will continue the tourism industry that has been in place on the Black Sea for decades.


I was lucky enough to study abroad in St Petersburg, Russia, in 2013, so I knew what to expect from the people.  Far from their seemingly cold exterior, the Russian people were warm and kind. Always willing to help me get around the city, offer advice, and to engage in conversation (even though my Russian is not that great!) There really was a feeling of national pride and personal obligation for the Russian citizens to show the world they are capable and hospitable.

I was also very lucky to have landed my volunteer position. I ended up working very little, and I was able to attend many of the events. One of the highlights was the Women’s Figure Skating, where Russia took the gold for the first time in the history of that event. The crowd was going crazy. People were cheering in the hallways, as we exited onto the Olympic Plaza, and in the shuttles on the way home. It was a real treat to be able to be part of their excitement.

And a private highlight was being able to snowboard there. Of course, like a spoiled Utahn, I waited until it really dumped!  It was a great experience, which is why I was hoping to be able to share it.



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