York student still excited about her Winter Olympic experience

OK, picture this: York student Mona Yeganegi, who admits she is “obsessive” about hockey, finds herself at the Olympic gold-medal men’s hockey game between Canada and the United States. As the seconds wind down on what looks like a win for Canada, she is told not to cheer because she is standing right behind the US team’s bench.

Yeganegi, you see, was there in an official capacity – she was one of a handful of young women picked to assist at the medal presentation ceremonies for the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

Right: Mona Yeganegi with the Olympic torch

Her supervisor wanted the crew to stifle their excitement out of respect for the Olympic ideal, or something like that. “Wasn’t going to happen,” says Yeganegi, who admits she and everyone else in the building couldn’t help but make noise. She was so keyed up that her hands were shaking and she had to put down the tray she used to carry the medals and flowers as one of the official Olympic greeters.

And then it happened. US forward Zach Parisé scored with just 24 seconds left in the third period, to send the game into overtime. His goal also meant Yeganegi had to leave the game to prepare for the medal ceremony, which would happen immediately after the overtime. She didn’t get to see Sid “The Kid” Crosby skate out from the corner, take a pass from Jarome Iginla and score the winning goal for Canada – she was standing in the hallway getting ready for the presentations. But she heard it when it happened. “Oh my gosh, it was amazing, everyone was screaming,” she says.

That was just one of the many stories the fourth-year psychology student tells about an adventure that started more than two years ago.

A kinesiology student who switched to psychology, Yeganegi had been thinking about the Olympics since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia. When she heard the Winter Games were coming to Canada, she started planning how she could be there. She sent in her resumé and eventually received a phone call suggesting she apply for the select team of young women who assist at the medal presentations. When she was asked if she could come to Vancouver for an interview – just days before a midterm exam – she immediately booked a flight, flew in and flew out again 12 hours later to resume studying.

Left: Yeganegi at the 1500-metre men’s speed skating medal ceremony with US silver medal winner Shani Davis in the background

When they found out she was coming from Toronto just for an interview, the Vancouver Olympic Committee staff warned her only five girls would be chosen out of hundreds, but Yeganegi said she wasn’t going to miss the chance. “I knew I would regret it if I didn’t go,” she says.

After the interview she was worried she wouldn’t be chosen. “There were so many beautiful girls there, I don’t know how I’m going to get it,” she told her family and friends. In fact, many of the women were models who heard about the opportunity through their modelling agencies. She was one of the few non-models.

But Yeganegi did get the call, the only person in her group not from British Columbia. She returned to Vancouver the week before the Games to begin her adventure. Her duties saw her assisting at the first medal presentation – a silver to Canadian freestyle skier Jennifer Heil – and the final one to a German cross-country skier. During ceremonies welcoming athletes to the Olympic Village, she spent a lot of time with the honorary mayors Rick Hansen, Canada’s Man in Motion, and rower Tricia Smith, Olympic silver medallist, seven-time world champion and vice-president of the Canadian Olympic Committee Board of Directors.

If she did have time off, which was rarely, Yeganegi volunteered for other duties just so she could soak up the incredible atmosphere of the Olympics. “I was up until 1 or 2 in the morning a lot of the time and felt so safe walking through the streets," she says. “The atmosphere was very good.”

When the Games ended, Yeganegi flew home with some special souvenirs: her Olympic credentials, which gave her access to any venue, and a bouquet of Olympic flowers, or “broccoli” as some dubbed them. How she came by those flowers, which were for athletes only, she won’t say out of respect for the Olympian who gave them to her. But on the flight home, several people mistook her for an athlete, and began congratulating her on her achievement.

Her only regrets from the experience? “I only took 3,000 photos,” says Yeganegi, “I wish I’d taken more.”

By David Fuller, YFile contributing writer