Sports

Russia fields 25,000 volunteers for Sochi Games

NATALIYA VASILYEVA, Associated Press
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Russian President Vladimir Putin, background right,  speaks at his meeting with Olympic volunteers in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. Putin says gays should feel welcome at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, but they must "leave the children in peace." Putin told volunteers Friday that gays visiting Sochi "can feel calm and at ease," and vowed that there would be no discrimination at the games. But he emphasized that, according to a law banning homosexual "propaganda" among minors, gays cannot express their views on gay rights issues to anyone underage. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, background right, speaks at his meeting with Olympic volunteers in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. Putin says gays should feel welcome at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, but they must “leave the children in peace.” Putin told volunteers Friday that gays visiting Sochi “can feel calm and at ease,” and vowed that there would be no discrimination at the games. But he emphasized that, according to a law banning homosexual “propaganda” among minors, gays cannot express their views on gay rights issues to anyone underage. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — They are young, bright and speak good English. Russia has trained 25,000 volunteers to work at the upcoming Sochi Games.

President Vladimir Putin, who views the Olympics that start on Feb. 7 as a top priority of his presidency, met with a few dozen volunteers Friday at a biathlon venue in the mountains above Sochi, saying their work “to a greater extent is key to the atmosphere” at the games.

Volunteer candidates were expected to demonstrate at least an upper-intermediate command of English, and those selected were given online English classes. Some speak several languages.

Most of the volunteers are young and typically undergraduates like Yulia Nagaitseva, a 21-year-old journalism student from the city of Voronezh in southwestern Russia.

Nagaitseva was on a four-month work and travel program in the U.S. when she heard the Sochi organizers’ call for volunteers.

“There are once in a lifetime events, and it’s one of them,” she said after the meeting with Putin. “I couldn’t miss it.”

Nagaitseva and other volunteers spoke of a stringent selection process for volunteers, which included multiple tests and Skype interviews.

Many foreign visitors at test events in Sochi last year spoke highly of the volunteers’ language skills. They were also pleasantly surprised to see Russians smiling at them, unlike most Russians whose culture doesn’t encourage smiling to strangers.

Volunteers were given classes on cultural awareness, which taught them to smile, among other things, said Sergei Pilipenko, a 52-year-old English professor from Kuban State University in the nearby city of Krasnodar.

Pilipenko, who will work at the main media center, recalled a recent meeting with a Japanese journalist.

“I saw a Japanese man bow — and we bowed back.”

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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