Thursday, February 18, 2010
U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller snagged a bronze in a comeback downhill ski race Feb. 15. But American Simone Bonneville had her eye fixed on another Olympian as she watched the competition in the resort town of Whistler, north of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Bonneville was rooting for Sergei Drygin, 32, the lone member of Tajikistan Olympic team and the first Tajik to ever compete in the winter Olympic games 12 years ago.
“You get really attached—it’s like watching your kids,” Bonneville says, “even though he’s older than me.”
Bonneville, 31, is a student at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and Drygin’s interpreter at the games. Everywhere Drygin and his coaches go, Bonneville is there, letting conversation flow between the English-speaking world and the Tajiks, who speak Russian as a second language.
Drygin isn’t likely to win any medals, Bonneville said before Monday’s race:“I just hope he finishes.” Four years ago, she says, he placed 51st in a field of some 80 competitors.
Bonneville— a fluent Russian speaker who also knows French—studies interpretation and translation at MIIS. She is one of 750 volunteer interpreters selected from a pool of 65,000 applicants and one of 10 students, alumni and faculty representing the school in Vancouver.
Bonneville is a native of Saratoga Springs, New York, and a huge hockey fan whose professional code of behavior forced her to let superstar Wayne Gretsky stride by undisturbed. “I couldn’t run up to him and say, ‘Let me take your picture.’”
Discretion is a big part of Bonneville’s job. It’s sports, not nuclear disarmament talks, but the work is as confidential as if she were the voice of the Tajik prime minister in high- level diplomatic talks.
Funny anecdotes about miscommunication or cultural faux pas have to wait until after the closing ceremonies, she says.
On a post-race phone call Monday night, the sounds of celebratory fans bled through as Bonneville described streets crammed with revelers waving the flaps of Sweden, Estonia and Canada—even as the temperature dipped into negative numbers. As she strolled the Whistler streets, Bonneville said Jamaica House was welcoming guests to a celebration honoring its noted bobsled team, and Austria House offered fondue to invitees.
Drygin did finish the race, she said.
“He came in phenomenally last.”
Next, he’ll compete in the slalom, giant slalom and Super-G.
As for Bonneville, she hopes to one day score a job like the one she’s doing as volunteer.
“I love sports and interpreting. This is the grail for me,” she said.