As Winter Olympic Games open, VCU alumna helps Team USA gear up
By Greg Burton, Center for Sport Leadership
Not all Olympic dreams involve winning a gold medal. Jennifer Nelson’s Olympic dream was to play a role in the planning and coordination of the world’s most prestigious sporting event.
“Being part of the Olympic movement has always been a huge passion of mine,” Nelson said.
Nelson, a 2016 graduate of the Center for Sport Leadership in the VCU School of Education, is realizing that dream right now. She is volunteering with the United States Olympic Committee’s Team Processing Center, helping prepare for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Nelson has been in South Korea for two weeks, preparing for the arrival of the 243 athletes that will represent Team USA. Team Processing is the athletes’ first stop once they arrive.
“The amount of inventory we set up is equivalent to an entire department store.”
“Team Processing is where each athlete receives the clothing and gear supplied to members of Team USA,” Nelson said. “The amount of inventory we set up is equivalent to an entire department store. A warehouse was converted into a stock room where empty aisles quickly became filled with product and gear for the athletes. The USOC [United States Olympic Committee] sent several shipping containers by boat to South Korea in October to make sure everything arrived on time.”
Team USA athletes fly into Incheon, South Korea, about an hour from Seoul, and the site of the Team USA Processing Center. It takes each athlete two to three hours to go through the entire process, which also includes getting the proper credentials and some media training. After the athletes finish, they take about a three-hour bus ride to PyeongChang.
Iconic fashion brand Ralph Lauren is supplying the clothing Team USA is wearing for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and even brought in stylists and tailors from London to make any necessary alterations. Nike is supplying the “podium” wardrobe for athletes who win a medal.
“I have spent all my time on the Ralph Lauren apparel side of Team Processing, working with about 10 other volunteers and staff,” Nelson said. “When the athletes come to us, we grab their pre-packed bag from the stock room. Each athlete submitted their sizes ahead of time, which helps us pack their bags. The athletes try on all of the Team USA branded clothes to make sure it fits properly and comfortably.”
Nelson said Team Processing has been a whirlwind of activity since the athletes starting arriving a week ago.
“Over the past few days, we have processed gear bags for Men’s Speed Skating, Men’s Luge, Women’s Ice Hockey, and Women’s Cross Country Skiing. It’s been remarkable to interact with the athletes and see how excited they are to be an Olympian after all their years of training.”
It is clear Nelson is pretty excited too. The idea of working in Team Processing was planted three years ago when she interned for USA Taekwondo. Nelson’s supervisor shared her experience working with Team Processing at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Nelson said the other factor was the networking advice and training she received while in graduate school at VCU.
“One of the most important things we learned at the Center for Sport Leadership is your ‘network is your net worth.’ My network and previous experiences helped me get this position. I am beyond blessed for this opportunity and can’t thank [enough] my family, friends and CSL professors who have helped me get here.”