February 21, 2014

Winter Olympics has special meaning for local man

Charles Oliver

— Michael Morgan admits he hasn’t paid much attention to past Winter Olympics. But he says he’s been watching all he can of the current games in Sochi, Russia.

One of the highlights for him was seeing Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White take gold in ice dancing.

“I just kept thinking ‘I know them. I met them,’” he said. “It was particularly exciting to see the two of them win because they were so nice.”

Morgan, a Whitfield County resident and Murray County native, met Davis and White and many other U.S. Olympians in the days leading up to the opening of the Winter Games earlier this month.

Morgan, who works for Wacker Polysilicon North America, has spent the past 18 months in Germany training to be a laboratory manager at a plant the company will open next year in Charleston, Tenn. And Munich, Germany, served as something of a staging area for U.S. Olympians before they headed to Russia.

“They (the U.S. Olympic Committee) needed some volunteers, and they put the word in to some of the companies over here that have expatriates working for them,” Morgan recalled. “A group of about 12 of us from Wacker volunteered. They interviewed us and did background checks and chose four of us.”

He worked closely with a team from designer Ralph Lauren.

“Ralph Lauren designed the uniforms worn by the American team during the opening and closing ceremonies. We had over 400 people, athletes and coaches and staff, to outfit,” he said.

“We were assigned athletes, and we had to get everything together for them. They had special pants, not really underwear, that they wore underneath to keep warm. They had an undershirt, hat, belt, socks, sweater, boots, everything, and we had to get all that ready,” he said. “They (the athletes) would hand in a ticket, and you’d get their stuff and carry it for them as they went to the changing room. They’d try it on with a Ralph Lauren tailor. If they needed a different size, we’d go get it. If something needed to be altered, we’d write that down for the tailor.”

The athletes had typically just gotten off a plane from the United States and were tired and jetlagged. But Morgan said he could still sense their excitement.

“For a lot of them, it’s not about the money. It’s just something they love to do,” he said. “They were all very personable. They didn’t act like celebrities at all. It was an official policy that we could not ask for photographs with them. But a lot of them asked if they could take photos with us. Many of them, especially they ones who were at their first Olympics or the ones who knew this would be their last Olympics, wanted to document it.”

And he says many of the athletes spent time talking to the volunteers as they waited on alterations to their uniforms. That’s how he got to meet Davis and White.

“They were two-time world champions before coming to these games and had won silver in Vancouver in 2010,” he said. “They are big stars, but they were absolutely down to earth. They sat there and talked to me and my partner for 10 or 15 minutes.”

He said they spent about half an hour talking to nordic combined skier Todd Lodwick, who carried the flag for the United States.

“He was a great guy, and he’s one of the ones who is doing this because he loves it,” Morgan said. “So I was excited to see him walking out during the opening ceremony.”

He also got to spend time with alpine ski racers Julia Mancuso and Bode Miller as well as snowboarder Shaun White.

He said one of the most memorable athletes he met was figure skater Jason Brown.

“Several people were congratulating him on reaching 3 million hits, and I asked him what that was about. He said one of his performances had been posted to YouTube and had gotten 3 million hits,” he said. “I congratulated him on that as well, and he was almost in tears. He’s just 19, and this is his first Olympics and he was obviously very moved that someone was supporting him.”

Morgan says he can’t wait for he and his wife Angie and sons Scotty and Matthew to return home later this year and reunite with their other children Khrystina and McKenzie Morgan and Adam Bailey. But he said he’s very glad he got the opportunity to meet so many Olympians.

“It was a great experience, and I’ll never forget it,” he said.