When the Winter Olympic Games open this weekend, TV cameras will broadcast events from the slopes, rinks and luge runs, in slo-mo, close-up and stop-action.
But outside camera range, a supporting cast of hundreds, from physicians to worker bees, will toil to bring years of unsung work to fruition, a contribution that doesn't go unnoticed by the athletes.
For example, the story goes that speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno, after returning to the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center from the 2006 Turin Olympics — where he captured two bronze medals and a gold — made a special trip to the cafeteria to thank cooks and servers. He later signed a poster, saying, "Food service, you deserve a gold medal."
Here, we introduce a few other heroes you might not see on TV.
The mental game
Sports psychologist Sean McCann, who's been with the Olympic movement since 1991, keeps the athletes psyched up.
"We start years out from the Games with the notion that at the Olympics, everything is a performance issue," he says.
The Pueblo resident has counseled members of the American women's ski team and men and women's bobsled teams, about 30 people, for five or six years, building relationships, helping set goals, instilling confidence and teaching visualization (a type of self-hypnosis).
"The big challenge for a ski racer is not memorizing where the gates are, but being able to see yourself going 70 miles per hour and what forces are going to be created and where you need to be skiing to make the next gate," he says. "They get one chance to look at the course for a half hour and then they have to race it. The better you are at imagery, the better off you are."
He meets with athletes monthly, then weekly, then more often as the Games approach. In the last year, McCann was with the team in France, New Zealand and Austria. In Vancouver, he could pop up atop a ski hill or in a private corner, helping winners deal with victory or losers digest defeat.
McCann says all eyes are sure to be on skier Lindsey Vonn, who's competing in her third Olympics and has yet to stand on an Olympic podium. If she grabs gold, she'll be a star.
"She knows that," McCann says, "but there's no way she can allow herself to think about that. It will cause her to change the way she thinks about it."
Athletes must avoid thinking, "Just don't screw this up," he adds. "Once you start thinking like that, you're done."
The physical game
Jim Moeller of Troy, Mich., is prepared for the worst. As the U.S. Olympic Committee's chief medical officer, Moeller has been working since September to set up treatment sites to handle "every medical eventuality," such as dislocations, fractures, colds, flu, infections and concussions. He also oversaw setting up plans to evacuate injured athletes from mountain tops and other remote venues.
"We try to think about everything that could possibly happen, and hope we never use any of it," Moeller says.
His team of 50 — doctors, chiropractors, trainers, physical therapists and massage therapists, many of whom are volunteers like him — will work 18-hour days to assure Olympians' bodies endure the Games' rigors and get tuned up when needed, an unpredictable assignment.
"There's a lot of downtime mixed with a lot of moments of chaos," he says.
In his second Olympics, Moeller will have ultrasound equipment in training rooms for the first time, allowing physicians to assess muscles, tendons and ligaments on site. Athletes requiring MRIs and X-rays will be taken to local hospitals.
"We are doing this as a labor of love," he says. "Our goal is to stay out of the spotlight, so we can push them into it."
The media game
How does a staff of 35 make sure athletes' stories get told in thousands of newspapers and other media outlets worldwide?
"We try to help everybody that walks in the door, asks a question or cares about what we do," says Bob Condron, USOC director of media services. "You get 214 athletes that have worked all their lives for this, and it's time for them to tell their stories."
It's not such a hard job, he says, because most reporters at the Olympics are pros, not pests. A sticky job, though, can be deciding who gets the precious tickets for blockbuster events such as women's figure skating and the hockey gold-medal game.
Condron, a Springs resident who's been on the job for 25 years, arrived in Vancouver two weeks ago. He'll focus on the 480 American journalists working there, as well as those who stay home through his new "hometown news" bureau.
"We'll do everything we can to hook up an athlete with his hometown media," he says.
Condron also knows the foreign press, having issued credentials worldwide as a member of the elite International Olympic Committee's Press Commission.
If the wheels fall off, Condron will turn to a new team member and crisis planner: Kevin Sullivan, President George W. Bush's communications director and former NBC Universal media guru.
Ready for anything but hoping for smooth sailing, Condron says everyone who works among Olympians feels privileged.
"It makes you a better person to be around them," he says. "You really feel proud."— firstname.lastname@example.org