You often see stories about how athletes got to the Olympics. The usual focus: Supportive (or hard-driving) parents, transformative coaches, inspiring (or bullying) siblings.
Go behind the scenes to the more banal, and you actually find some fascinating stuff. I spent some time with two people, Brent Proulx and Miha Dolinar.
Who are they?
Equipment guys, or in the global lexicon they're called technicians. However, both terms sell them short, by a wide margin.
I'll start with Brent. He's the equipment manager for the U.S. Women's hockey team. He sharpens skates, puts out uniforms, patches up equipment ... he even makes sure the right chewing gum is out for them.
"He's at the rink more than we are," admits U.S. defenseman Kacey Bellamy. "We play (the games). We're passionate. But he's the guy who has to set everything up and have everything perfect for us.
"He's one of the most important parts of this family."
They keyword there: Family.
It's not hyperbole. In hockey, the team doesn't just show up and practice or play a game. Time is needed to get dressed, stretch warm up, tape sticks ... check skates. The team is there at least an hour before, and they stay at least an hour afterward. Each day, it's a minimum four hours together, and the family reference is accurate. They love. They laugh. They fight.
Brent isn't allowed in the locker room until all the women are "decent", but he hears and sees just about everything. And the women share a lot with him.
"You have a relationship with each and every one of them," he said. "It's different depending on their personality, but with every one of them, you have a personal relationship."
On the other side of the ledger, all the players know Brent's sacrifice. When the team spent six months at their pre-Olympic camp in the Boston area, Brent only saw his wife and three young children sparingly.
Instead of Sochi, they are home in Minnesota.
"Six months away from them has been hard," he admitted. "But it's worth it. This opportunity - with this team, it doesn't get any better."
Then, there's Miha Dolinar. He lives a much more solitary professional life.
Miha is the Slovenian-born ski technician for Stacey Cook, an American Olympic downhill and Super G skier. She's a world-class athlete, but unless you're a die-hard World Cup ski fan, you've likely never heard of her.
However, Cook is good enough to have either a sponsored technician (by the company that makes her skis) or one from the U.S. Ski Team.
Miha works for the U.S. Ski Association and actually has another skier on his roster. She's injured and not at the Olympics, so here in Sochi, it's just the two of them.
And they have a unique relationship.
They're not lovers. They're not friends. They're not even like siblings. They're more like an old married couple that runs a business together. There's so much that gets done with so little communication. He knows what she wants, and she likes what he does.
"When he first came to me, we sat down, and he asked, 'What do you need?' I said that I needed someone who cares," she said. "I didn't need the best technician. I just needed someone who cares, and he was that person right away."
And it turns out, he was a great technician, to boot. In fact, Cook says he's the best in the world when it comes to edges.
All Miha does, all day is care for Cook's skis.
Waxes. Edges. Scrapes. A bunch of other stuff I can't explain.
"I know he has that side of the sport taken care of," Cook said. He's so good - and she's so comfortable with him - that they do not even talk about the equipment any more. They don't have to. That's a huge advantage because she can then focus on the skiing and the fitness to truly be at her best.
"Everything around her has to be perfect," said Miha, who makes sure more than two dozen skis are in racing condition at any moment. "In general, my job is as important, I would say, as a coach or even what she does."
Cook still has to ski, but if the skis aren't right, she has no chance, no matter how good she races.
It's a bit less like that at the rink with Brent - he can re-sharpen skates at any time -- but for both Miha and Brent the payoff is largely the same.
"These are the best 21 female players in the world," Proulx said. "Being a part of that and being able to take care of them and winning hockey games and a chance to win the gold medal are the best."
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