Big event organizers glean advice from Alaska's winter games

Posted: Monday, March 12, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- For Alaska organizers, the Special Olympics World Winter Games are history.

But for those who came to Anchorage to gather pointers for hosting their own large-scale events, it was only prologue.

Closing ceremonies for the games were held Sunday night. Some 2,400 athletes and coaches from 69 countries participated in the games, making it the largest winter sporting event ever held in Alaska.

The 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin is projected to bring 7,500 athletes and will involve 30,000 volunteers and 160 towns in Ireland.

Absorbing the many details involved in planning can be ''mind-boggling,'' said organizer Shelagh Leech, one of 22 Irish observers who roamed Alaska's Special Olympics venues last week. Sometimes, she said, ''we wonder if we're ready.''

A warm welcome from Alaska event coordinators -- who opened their files and shared postgame analysis of what had gone well and what had gone wrong -- helped ease the planners' jitters.

Also in town seeking ideas were organizers for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which is expected to draw 70,000 visitors per day over two weeks.

According to Utah Olympic Public Safety Command spokesman Christopher Kramer, the Alaska event was the last in a series of large events his group has visited over the past six years, including the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and the Super Bowl.

''All of the cities and host agencies have this kind of unwritten mandate that we help each other out as much as we can,'' Kramer said. Already, he said, organizers of the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece, are observing their work.

''There's so much to learn from,'' Kramer said. ''Every time you go through something like this you get better at it. You make mistakes, and you pass on these lessons to the next ones to do it.''

Special teams of FBI and Treasury agents were also in Anchorage to plan for the larger -- and riskier -- Olympics. And some service providers, like the transportation coordinators in Anchorage, will have the same jobs in Salt Lake City and can take their lessons learned with them.

Among the ideas the team brought back from Alaska, Kramer said, was a simple sign-in board technique used to track the locations of staffers and volunteers.

''It was simple, but I'd never seen it used before,'' he said. He also learned the importance of ensuring public safety members from different organizations had compatible radio systems.

The lessons went beyond planning for future events.

''The thing I saw that had the biggest impact had nothing really to do with public safety efforts,'' Kramer said. He watched as a speedskater fell and was cheered back to his feet by the crowd, giving him the encouragement he needed to finish.

The moment was a reminder, Kramer said, that the best planning efforts should remain invisible, letting the event and the athletes shine.

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