On my way into the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Thursday night for the US-Canada gold-medal game in women's hockey, I was chatting with a fellow reporter. The topic of Minnesota came up, and a Sochi 2014 volunteer standing near the media entrance said, '"I'm from Minnesota!"
You just cannot escape us. We've got 27 Minnesota-connected athletes at the Sochi Games, plus several coaches and staff members. A women's hockey referee. Four NBC analysts. A team doctor. The manager of the press-conference rooms at the Main Press Center. The producer of the closing ceremony. And volunteer Warren Erickson of Prior Lake, who works in the photographers' room at Bolshoy.
Erickson, 65, is volunteering at his third Olympic Games. He's serving as a photographers' assistant, assigning positions in the arena to each photographer and making sure they have the proper armbands.
He was dressed in the colorful turquoise pants and jacket that most of the 25,000 Sochi volunteers wear. A senior account executive at Canon Solutions America, Erickson also was a city council member in Prior Lake for seven years and has a grandson who plays youth hockey in Lakeville. He was especially glad to draw duty at the Olympics' main hockey rink, where he gets to watch the games at ice level.
"I grew up in Grand Forks, N.D., so I'm from hockey country,'' said Erickson, who proudly noted he shares a hometown with U.S. forwards Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux. "This is a lot of fun. I really enjoy being around other volunteers from all over the world.''
Erickson volunteered at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2012 Summer Games in London. Arrangements vary according to the Olympics, he said. He was required to pay his own way to get to Sochi, but once here, he has received free room and board at a village shared by volunteers and media.
Most of Erickson's co-workers are Russian. The oldest person on his team, after himself, is 23; it was 44 at the London Games and 45 at the Vancouver Games. "Most of the volunteers are college students, and about 70 percent are women,'' he said.
Creating a culture of volunteering is one of the legacies that organizers hope to realize from these Olympics. Marina Pochinok, head of volunteers for the Sochi 2014 organizing committee, said that only 3 percent of Russians did volunteer work before the Sochi committee began recruiting its workforce six years ago. "The word 'volunteer' itself was very unknown,'' she said. "We introduced the word to the Russian vocabulary.''
Erickson is among the 7 percent of the volunteers who came from 65 other countries. He's already planning to work at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and he's not going alone. One of Erickson's hobbies is salsa dancing, and he's already recruiting friends from that commuunity to join him in Rio.