A proud Olympic experience

Ty Dunham
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Labrador City’s Paul Smith raves about his time at the Sochi Winter Games in Russia

While competitors raced for gold at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, Paul Smith was earning memories to last a lifetime.

It’s been quite a few weeks for Smith, who just returned home to Labrador City after officiating curling at the Games.  

The deputy chief timer said the only bad thing he took from the experience was the flu.  

“I had never imagined it would be as rich and full as it was,” he said.  

The opportunity to travel to the Olympics to supervise a team of time keepers came just a few years after he developed a program that was adopted by curling timekeepers worldwide, including the World Curling Federation. Smith wrote the program shortly before a local tournament and it soon snowballed and took him across the globe to be a chief timer in major events. 

“I also found out while I was (in Sochi) the United States Curling Association has adopted it as official timing software now. It’s starting to get pretty well known,” he noted.

The eyes of the world 

As a supervisor in Sochi, Smith made sure the timekeepers were switching the clocks at the appropriate times, the clocks were running, and time-outs were being called in a timely fashion.  

“I’m there to watch the game, but I’m not really watching anything. I’m looking at four different sheets at all times.” 

With an unprecedented camera coverage, Smith said he felt the pressure as millions of eyes around the world watched his team. 

“Many people don’t realize how active you can be on a timing bench during the game. If the spectators and television doesn’t see anything going on, then we did our job,” he explained.  

Smith and the deputy chief decided that for the medal rounds they would both be on duty at the same time, acting as an extra set of eyes.  

“That’s when I really got to enjoy the curling, which was when it really counted.”

Canadian dominance 

Though he and his team remained impartial in their duties, Smith felt great pride as he watched both the men’s and women’s Canadian teams sweep their way to gold. 

Curling wasn’t the only sport where Smith had some of the best seats in the house. His position made him a part of the “Olympic Family,” and the World Curling Federation was issued upgrade passes that he was welcomed to, based on availability. 

Sitting beside championship skier and Crazy Canuck member Steve Podborski, Smith felt the spirit of the games as he watched the Canadian women’s hockey team take gold. 

The tension in the building was so thick you could cut it with a knife, he said.

“At 3:30 left in the game and we were still down 2-0. I commented to my friends, ‘the women on the U.S. bench, it looks like they’re starting to celebrate already.’ And before you knew it we scored a goal and the place exploded,” Smith recalled.

He said when the gold medal winning goal was scored he had never seen such heart in a team. 

“Probably one of the best hockey games I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve been watching hockey since I was old enough to turn on the television set. It was a storybook ending, you could never write the script.” 

 

A sense of safety

Before leaving for Sochi, Smith told The Aurora he felt some trepidation and was concerned about the security risks.  

However, once he was in the compound it never crossed his mind, he said.  

“I was looking for all these armed guards. If they were there they sure hid themselves well.” 

He was disappointed with the media’s portrayal of the conditions of the compound, which included photos of dirty water and hotel rooms falling apart.  

“I have to defend the Russian honour. It’s unfortunate because it wasn’t at all as bad as they were making it out to be.” 

He couldn’t find one complaint about his stay.  

“I’ve stayed in hotels far worse in Canada and the United States. This would classify as a five star hotel in any part of the world. They treated us well; they were very proud of their games.” 

The fervour of the games costing $50 billion was also over the top, and Smith said no one was reporting how the majority of the money was spent on infrastructure for the city itself. 

“I feel bad for them. I took every opportunity I could to thank them for their fabulous job. The volunteers were very pleasant and welcoming. I feel it was terribly skewed.”

 

Some great memories

As Olympic fever begins to settle and Smith starts to reset his internal clock, he’s realizing many of the best memories of the trip were far away from the roaring crowds.  

While Smith had some time off he decided to visit some of the pavilions and exhibitions. One particular building was nothing special, except for the people inside who greeted him warmly when they found out he was from Canada.

Another gentlemen overheard and rushed over to Smith and asked in Russian if he could talk about hockey with him. For the next half-hour the translators carried the conversation between the two men.  

“This guy was quite a bit older. Turns out he was at the original (1974) Summit Series with Canada and Russia’s Red Army team.” 

The man pulled out a photograph from his backpack of both rosters written in Russian, and included autographs from Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, and Paul Henderson.  

“It was one of those things that was destined to be there that day. What a great experience.” 

One of Smith’s favourite surprises happened while eating breakfast in his hotel with a friend.  

“I said, ‘I think I recognize that guy down there. He looks like an NFL (football) player.’” 

His friend told him it was Vernon Davis, tight end for the San Francisco 49ers. Being a big football fan, Smith introduced himself and took a photo with him. The two chatted for a bit until Smith noticed Davis’ accreditation said he was there for curling, so he asked him about it.  

Davis told him he loved curling ever since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and was in Sochi as the honorary captain for the US teams.  

“We walked around the compound and I was showing him different things. He wanted to know where everything was. We spent about 45 minutes together and then he went on his way and I went off on my way.” 

It’s been a busy month for Smith, but he won’t get a long break. On March 25, he’ll leave for China to play his role as the chief timer.

ty.dunham@tc.tc

 

Organizations: World Curling Federation, United States Curling Association, Summit Series Red Army NFL

Geographic location: Sochi, Labrador, Russia United States Canada Vancouver Olympics China

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  • Judy Russell
    February 26, 2014 - 23:09

    Congratulations, Paul!! Sounds like you had an amazing experience...good for you! Good luck in all your future endeavours :)