After years of supporting their children's Olympic dreams, parents of athletes often find themselves in a last-minute dash to get tickets and lodging.
When Jeff and Margaret Kirk of Bremerton look back on their experience watching two daughters compete in the Olympics, three words linger in memory — and they’re not “swifter, higher, stronger.”
“Home-equity loan,” Margaret Kirk replies when asked how she and her husband paid the $15,000 travel tab to watch daughters Tara and Dana, then elite swimmers at Stanford, compete in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
The money bought them plane tickets and 10 days in a cramped cabin in the bowels of a cruise ship in Athens. But even that package — the cheapest they could find through a travel agent during the run-up to the Athens games — cost far more than they had in reserves.
“We’re a blue-collar family,” said Kirk, a Seattle City Light engineer. “Where are you supposed to come up with that chunk of money?”
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The Kirks mulled it over, and thought the same things countless other parents think: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” So they borrowed the money and got to see Tara claim a silver medal in the medley relay.
Some parents fare much worse. Timing works against them: Most Olympic team members are officially named only weeks before the Games. That forces families, who already may have supported an Olympic dream for a decade, to compete for lodging — and extra tickets for siblings and other relatives — when prices are at their peak.
Record demand for tickets, and inflated prices for lodging in Vancouver, likely will make athletes’ families repeat the scramble to attend the Olympics in February. Most Vancouver-area hotels are booked, and remaining rooms are going for up to five times their normal rate.
Sue and Bob Celski of Federal Way already know their 19-year-old son, J.R., will compete in short-track speedskating over multiple days at Pacific Coliseum.
Rather than shell out $800 to $1,000 a night for lodging, they say, they’ll stay with Vancouver-area acquaintances. But after several unsuccessful attempts to get tickets through the sole U.S. distributor, CoSport, they’re still without tickets for themselves and for J.R.’s two older brothers. “We’ve had to worry about: A) getting our son to be one of the Olympians, and now B) getting tickets to see him,” Sue Celski said.
Some help is on the horizon. The U.S. Olympic Committee pledges to provide athletes with two family tickets, paid for by the USOC, for every event in which they compete. The organization already has enough tickets lined up, about 2,500, to meet that commitment, said Nancy Gonsalves of the USOC’s international games division.
On rare occasions, scheduling snafus will create situations where an athlete doesn’t get any family tickets, although that’s rare, she said.
For anything beyond the two complimentary tickets, families are on their own, competing with the masses through an authorized ticket seller, in this case CoSport.
The Celskis said they’re happy to pay for more tickets but would welcome changes that would allow J.R.’s two brothers to watch him skate. One brother, Chris, actually moved with J.R. to California five years ago and served as his legal guardian while he trained there. “It’s been years getting here,” Bob Celski said. “This has been a whole-family project.”