Smiling volunteers show new face of Russia

Sat Feb 15, 2014 11:28am EST
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By Mark Trevelyan

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - As a volunteer at the Sochi Olympics, Anna Kostareva's main role is to marshal journalists at the foot of the Rosa Khutor ski slope, but she finds it hard to stop herself dancing on the job.

The infectious cheer of the 29-year-old from St Petersburg, swaying to the music blaring from loudspeakers, typifies the image that Russia wants to show the world at the Winter Olympics: open, warm, friendly, and far-removed from the hatchet-faced stereotype of the Soviet Union.

"St Petersburg is such an overcast city and I go around all serious; here I want to smile all the time, be happy, dance, have fun and fool around, even though I'm nearly 30," said the marketing specialist, who took four weeks' leave from her job to join the 18,500 Olympic volunteers at the Sochi Games.

In their crazy-quilt technicolor jackets, with kaleidoscopic patterns in blue, pink, orange and a few more colors besides, the volunteers present a vivid spectacle - "like jolly little parrots", as Kostareva puts it.

Some 200,000 people applied for the role of 'volontyor' - a recent coinage in Russia, as the older word for volunteer, 'dobrovolets', has more Communist and military connotations.

The job spec called for people who "share the Olympic values", have teamwork, communication and leadership skills, and "readiness to help and solve the most unexpected and difficult tasks".

"We had to do verbal tests, a maths test and an interview partly in Russian and partly in English," said Kostareva, who applied in 2012 and endured a long wait to find out whether she had been successful.

"SO WELCOMING!"   Continued...

A fan (R) greets Yuliya Udalykh, a volunteer from the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, at the entrance to the Olympic Park during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Games February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov