The ring connection: Local Olympians share their experiences

News-DemocratFebruary 4, 2014 

The rings connect more than 70 local Olympians across state lines, sports and decades; Four of them on Tuesday shared their experiences with college students in Granite City just ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Stacy Smith was an ice dancer at the 1980 winter games. Her life was very different from that of the state-sponsored Soviet athletes.

"I waitressed. I was an excellent waitress and I made every costume I wore. I was always broke, so if I was going to have a wonderful costume, I would have to make it myself," said Smith, of St. Louis. She got her costume ideas from television shows.

Smith was joined by Craig Virgin of Lebanon, who ran the 10,000 meters in '76, was on the team for the boycotted '80 games and in the '84 games; speed skater Jim Chapin of St. Louis, who competed in '76, '80 and '84; and John "Jake" Carenza, who was on the '72 U.S. Olympic soccer team at the infamous Munich summer games. Palestinian terrorists took nine Israeli athletes hostage. All were killed.

Carenza is president of the non-profit U.S. Olympic Alumni/MO-IL Chapter, which since 2008 has made its home at 5218 Central Ave. in Granite City. The office is a hub for the group to coordinate its community outreach.

"Our mission is to reach out to the community to let them know we're here and available to youth organizations and schools," as well as other functions and events to promote sport, Carenza said.

Their talk on Tuesday was at the Southwestern Illinois College Sam Wolf Granite City Campus and hosted by the Granite City Rotary Club. Topics ranged from their experiences from their Olympic trips, the boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics, security concerns at the 2014 Winter Olympics that begins Friday in Sochi, Russia, and how competitors can now be professional athletes as opposed to cash-strapped amateurs who wait tables.

For more information, visit their website at mo-il-olympians.org or call (314) 662-4990. The Granite City office also has memorabilia including an Olympic flag with more than 60 signatures from Olympians, a torch carried by Carenza in 1996, posters from different Olympic games and others items that can be viewed by appointment.

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