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Bus drivers make Olympics a smooth ride

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SOCHI, Russia – Here, in order, are the most important people at the Winter Olympics:

1. Athletes.

2. Bus drivers.

3. Everybody else.

Yes, that does sound a bit over the top, doesn’t it?

But it’s not an exaggeration.

Without these dedicated people, almost all of them volunteers, there would be no Winter Olympics.

They put in 15-hour days, carting around some 6,000 athletes, a thousand or two media and seemingly endless amounts of spectators (there were about 950,000 tickets sold for these Games).

It never ceases to amaze me how someone can drive the same 10- or 20-mile route dozens of times a day and not look put off by the whole thing.

Whether it’s Salt Lake, Torino or Sochi, they just go about their business.

When I was at Vancouver in 2010, I got to know a bus driver who took a regular turn on the route from my hotel to the downtown train station.

He was a military man, who had served in the Middle East working on a troop transport. This Olympic thing was nothing by comparison. He had arrived from San Diego where he was stationed but said he was dreaming of heading back to the Midwest to be near his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes and Pittsburgh Steelers.

These are the kinds of guys you meet on these buses, men who derive satisfaction from doing their jobs as part of a huge organized event.

Here in Sochi, all the buses are running on time and most of them are packed with excited, laughing patrons. The guys at the wheel seem to be getting a kick out of the festive atmosphere.

“They (the bus drivers) are part of a non-commercial organization,’’ Timur, a Sochi marketing and communications manager tells me. “They don’t make money at all.

“And they come from all over – St. Petersburg, Moscow, everywhere.’’

Timur says the system has been tested since late January. Any glitches so far?

“We hope not,’’ Timur responds with a smile. “If you have a problem, come see us and we’ll try to resolve it.’’

Just how important are these drivers?

“Without these guys, the athletes don’t manage to go to the venues,’’ Timur says.

I could go on, explaining more of these drivers’ virtues, but you’ll have to excuse me, I’ve got a bus to catch.

Wayne Fish: 215-345-3070; e-mail: wfish@phillyburbs.com; twitter: @waynefish1