The 1996 Olympics in Atlanta needed thousands of helpers to assist
the athletes and make the Games happen-and many of those hands belonged
to members of the MIT community.
Keeping score during wrestling, translating for the Japanese
sailing team, driving a water launch and assisting in the monumental
task of feeding the athletes were some of the jobs performed by people
from MIT. The chief impression they came away with, in the words of Neal
Dorow, assistant dean of students and residence and campus activities,
was "the enormity of the whole operation." Mr. Dorow was a volunteer who
entered data into the computerized results system for wrestling.
"The athletes ate a lot. They went through tons and tons of
fruit," said MIT catering manager Margaret Derby, one of three Aramark
employees at MIT who went to Atlanta to help with food preparation.
Donna Freeborn, director of MIT catering, was director of catering for
the Olympic village, while Ms. Derby and Leah Daigle were shift managers
for cold and hot food, respectively. They worked in a huge tent in a
parking lot next to the village and fed thousands of athletes and
visitors, including President Clinton and his family, Muhammad Ali, Dan
Aykroyd and Mary Lou Retton.
There was Oktoberfest night, sushi, kimchi (requested by the
Koreans), and lots of pasta, some of it made by chefs who came with the
Italian team. "We hit every nationality with the different foods that
were offered," Ms. Derby said. Ice cream was in heavy demand by athletes
who had finished their events. "After they competed, they weren't
worried about their diets anymore, so they'd go crazy," she said.
"It was definitely the United Nations," said Mr. Dorow, who has
refereed at other international wrestling matches. "Every culture and
ethnicity was represented, with people from everywhere walking around
and mixing freely. For a lot of people in Atlanta, I think that was a
unique experience, but it dawned on me that it wasn't so different from
Isako Hoshino, a graduate student in materials science and
engineering, was in the center of one of the many cultural and
linguistic crossroads: she was a volunteer translator for the Japanese
sailing team. She was well qualified for the job, being bilingual (born
in Japan and raised in San Francisco), and a former captain of the
varsity sailing team and national All-Star while an undergraduate at
The biggest obstacles for the sailing contingent were the
logistics of getting to the course, which was several hours from
Savannah (itself 200 miles from Atlanta), and the weather. "Everyone was
very worried when Hurricane Bertha was coming," Ms. Hoshino said. "If it
had hit the day marina, that would've been the end of the sailing
competition." The sailors also had to contend with high temperatures and
humidity-"it rained every single day, and sailboats in the middle of the
ocean with lightning around is not a good thing." But she enjoyed going
out to the course on the spectator boat and meeting the sailors-
including Paula Lewin (SB '93), who was representing Bermuda.
Ms. Hoshino was an interpreter during an official protest and
dispute between Japanese and Uruguayan sailors. Once things were sorted
out, the Japanese sailor prevailed, "but I ended up doing almost
simultaneous translation on the spot while six people were talking and a
guy was tugging on my arm saying `what's going on?'"
Also on the water for the Olympics was Mayrene Earle, assistant
professor in the Athletics Department and coach of the MIT women's crew
team. On Lake Lanier, 55 miles northwest of Atlanta, she drove a launch
alongside the shells during races in case the rowers fell into the water
and needed rescuing. Fortunately, those safety services weren't needed.
"It wasn't too glamorous, but it was fun," she said. "It was fun
to sit there and predict which teams would be the top. You could see
things unfolding and the momentum changing over the three-week period"
of training and practice before the competition.
Even before the bomb exploded in Centennial Park, "the security
was pretty amazing-there were always guards everywhere, as well as bomb-
sniffing dogs and metal detectors," Ms. Hoshino said. One of the sailors
was about 200 yards away from the explosion, "and he was pretty freaked
However, when the park reopened a few days later, athletes and
spectators brushed aside any uneasiness and returned in full force. "It
was as crowded as it could have been," Mr. Dorow said. "It's not that
people didn't care, but rather than being intimidated, they were upset
that someone would do this to their Olympic experience." Despite the
heat and long waits at checkpoints, "nobody complained," he added. "A
lot of people were thanking the security guards for being there."
Although the logistical problems, weather and commercialization
detracted a bit from the event, they paled next to the excitement of
being at the Games. "I was working in an environment that was so
electric. You'd see athletes come into the dining room with their medals
on. It was pretty cool serving someone you'd seen on TV the night
before," Ms. Derby said.
"There's nothing like the Olympics," Mr. Dorow said. "It's the
only event of its kind that brings the whole world together."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 28, 1996.