VANCOUVER - Want an example of pure amateurism at the Olympics? You won't get it from many of the athletes.

If you want a glimpse of the Olympic spirit, of selflessness and patriotism and a belief in inherent goodness of sport, you'd be better off chatting up one of the 25,000 volunteers who made the Vancouver Olympics go, one of the blue-clad, self-described "Smurfs'' without whom the Games would have resembled a Third World riot.

Krista Cattapan is one of those volunteers.

She's a nursing student from Sault St. Marie, Ontario, a continent away from Vancouver. To become a volunteer, she applied to the Vancouver Olympic Committee along with about 200,000 other people, vying for 25,000 jobs.

She endured a two-year screening process that included a 45-minute application process, five telephone interviews, and long months of waiting.

"At one point I didn't hear from them for five months,'' she said. "I thought I wasn't going to go, after all. When I finally was approved, all I could think was, 'Yes! I'm going to the Olympics.'"

It's quite a lucrative assignment. The Vancouver Olympic Committee allowed her to pay for her own flight, find her own lodging and pay for her own meals. Well, most of her own meals.

"We do receive a meal at events for every 5 1/2 hours we work,'' she said. "We also get to keep our awesome, awesome uniforms. And we get a chance to make the Games happen.''

As they say in the Army, the hours are long, but at least the pay is lousy. Volunteers handle the most menial of tasks, deal with journalists and team officials who may or may not speak their language and may or may not display manners.

Cattapan saw her original lodging arrangements fall through. She called her grandfather, who lives in Victoria, who reminded her that she had a distant relative who lives in Vancouver. "He's my second cousin, twice removed,'' Cattapan said. "It's quite the odd relationship, but it's been incredible. We are very similar people, and we get along awesomely. We were friends for life within the first 3 1/2 hours.

"His apartment is right in the thick of things. I actually hear the horn when a goal is scored at the hockey game before I see it on TV. The lucky bugger even got a ticket for the gold medal game.''

That's as close as Cattapan came to complaining about spending a month living with her second cousin twice removed in a city 3,000 miles from home for the privilege of working for free.

"I felt pretty special being one of those few chosen to be a Smurf,'' she said.

If an event so sprawling and disconnected as the Olympics can be generalized, this has been "The Polite Olympics.'' USA hockey goalie Ryan Miller was talking about getting "trash-talked'' by Canadian fans during the tournament. Asked what the abuse consisted of, he said, "Oh, well, really they were just saying, 'Go, Canada.'"

Cattapan is the embodiment of that spirit.

Her best memory?

"I've been to some really great sporting events, which were just incredible, with the electricity and the energy,'' she said. "I held the torch one day. I was walking home in uniform and saw someone with the torch and they let me hold it and took pictures of me with it.

"Seeing the Olympic flame, going up on the platform. ... Our skeleton gold medal winner was there taking pictures for the media, and he stood up there and held up his medal so we could take pictures.

"Walking down Granville Street and watching everyone cheering and high-fiving and hearing random outbursts of the national anthem. I don't think I could pinpoint just one single thing. It's all been so great, just seeing people happy and police officers high-fiving pedestrians, it's been awesome.''

Then she said, quite predictably, "I really hope you enjoyed our country.''

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com