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  • "Grey Eagles" Set to Take Flight at Innsbruck Youth Olympics


    (ATR) A member of Innsbruck 2012's innovative “Grey Eagles” volunteer program tells Around the Rings she can't wait to see the Olympic Flame light up Innsbruck for the third time.
    Brigitte Zerlauth will be volunteering for her third Olympics. (Innsbruck 2012)

    Brigitte Zerlauth, who turns 64 next month is among a group of about 150 senior volunteers who also participated at the 1976 Winter Games and one of three who had a role in 1964 as well.

    Zerlauth fondly recalls the events of her first Olympics in Innsbruck.

    “Most impressive was the huge Olympic fire, a lot of people with colored clothes, the mixture of languages and the enthusiastic atmosphere of the whole city,” she tells Around the Rings.

    “I wanted to be right at the events, so that’s why I gave out 'starting lists' at the alpine competitions and applied to cook sausages so I could attend the closing ceremony at the Olympic Ice Stadium. 

    “It was worth the hassle because in the end I could celebrate the final event in the middle of the athletes.

    “And now, 47 years later, I am really here, wearing my colorful jacket and taking part,” she adds. “It’s fantastic.”

    For the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games kicking off Friday in the Tyrolean capital, Zerlauth will serve as a team assistant for the delegation from Monaco, work with press and communications as well as act as a senior model.

    She and her fellow "Grey Eagles" will also share their Olympic experiences with the team of younger volunteers.

    “When I heard the first Winter YOG were looking for senior volunteers, I knew immediately I wanted to take part,” said tells ATR.

    “Because of my varied education as a primary school teacher, general practitioner doctor, ski instructor and medical technical assistant, I though my application would be welcome.

    “Meanwhile, I realize that showing my commitment to youth is really what I am enjoying.”

    "Extra Value"

    Julia Schratz is overseeing the “Grey Eagles” program as human resources and volunteer coordinator for Innsbruck 2012.
    Volunteer coordinator Julia Schratz (left) with members of the Winter YOG team. (Innsbruck 2012)

    As part of the project, interested members were offered free competence analysis to explore their personal capabilities and provide them with insight into how they can continue to succeed in life while also determining how they can best be incorporated into the volunteer team.

    “Having the opportunity to integrate senior citizens into the Innsbruck 2012 volunteer community, especially with the three who have also been there twice before when the Olympic torches were lit in Innsbruck, is special,” Schratz tells ATR.

    “The idea with the 'Grey Eagles' was to go one step further – to promote ‘senior volunteering’ by adding extra value.”

    Hermann Kuntner and Helmut Figallo are the other two volunteers who also participated at the 1964 and 1976 Games.

    “We often wonder how they did it without any or hardly any technical infrastructure, or at least not like we have now,” says Schratz in reference to past Olympic volunteer programs.

    “So many things were different back then, and yet in the end what is amazing is to see what the connecting points are – an international event bringing together all kinds of people along with a lot of positive emotion,” she adds.

    In Innsbruck, roughly 1,400 volunteers will represent more than 50 nationalities. The oldest – although not a “Grey Eagle” – is 83, testament to the program’s commitment to all generations.

    In 1976, Zerlauth was a student in medical school and participated in her second Winter Olympics through a research project with the school’s department of sports and circulation medicine.

    “I was able to be part of the team that did the injury statistics for ice hockey,” she explains of her 1976 experience.

    “Back then we already had accreditations and security was more and more important, especially in the Olympic Village.
    Brigitte Zerlauth on stage at a YOG kick-off event with fellow volunteer Klaus Praxmarer. (Innsbruck 2012)

    “What I will always remember was seeing Franz Klammer winning the downhill and, of course, the lighting of the second Olympic Flame.”

    Zerlauth is expecting her third Olympic endeavor to be another rich and fulfilling experience.

    “Working together with so many young volunteers is a new chance for me to stay in the ‘middle of life’ and to meet new people and friends, to learn and explore and to contribute through my experience and education to deliver at these first Winter Youth Olympic Games," she tells ATR.

    “Ever since I joined I can feel the Olympic values in the team; excellence, respect and friendship.”

    Ticket Availability, Distribution

    Innsbruck organizers revealed Friday that 80% of the tickets available to the public for the Games have already been distributed.

    “Of the 80,000 tickets available, 64,000 have gone,” said Innsbruck 2012 CEO Peter Bayer.

    “I think that just goes to show the level of interest in the 1st Winter Youth Olympic Games, both here in Austria and abroad.”

    Tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies were among the first to go. About 15,000 spectators are expected to fill Innsbruck’s Bergisel Stadium on Friday while the closing ceremony on Maria-Theresien-Strasse will host 4,000 on January 22.

    Events held in open-air competition venues – Patscherkofel, Olympic Sliding Center, Seefeld and Kühtai – will be open to the public and not require a ticket for entrance.

    Remaining tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis via two channels: free of charge at the venue information booth on Medals Plaza at the northern end of Maria-Theresien-Strasse or at the online webshop.

    Written and reported by Brian Pinelli.

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