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Feeding the athletes

LOUISVILLE — Kimberly Jones doesn't quite know what to expect at the Beijing Olympic Games.

Jones' concern isn't on the fields of competition, though. It's feeding the U.S. contingent when they aren't competing. Jones, Sullivan University's professional catering chair, is leading 21 undergraduates from the school's culinary program to the Chinese capital for a four- to six-week stint working the Games.

The students will be split between two locations during their stay in Beijing. One group will work in the U.S. Olympic Committee's USA House, a business center and hospitality complex near the newly built Chinese National Stadium, while the other will be assigned to the High Performance Training Center (HPTC). ”The lineup represents a cross-section of Sullivan's population,“ Jones said. ”We've got culinary and bakery students, people from our catering and management programs, and the Louisville and Lexington campuses.“

For the students, catering the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime chance that required a great deal of preparation. Students and staff members took an intensive leadership training seminar, as well as basic training in Chinese language and culture at the Crane House, a Chinese cultural institute in Louisville.

Their practical lessons will continue in the kitchens in Beijing, where they'll work alongside Chinese chefs during the Games.

The teams assigned to venues will cover two different cooking environments. The first group, which left last week, will serve American athletes at the HPTC. Because competitors arrive ahead of the Games to acclimate and hold pregame training sessions, the Sullivan students also arrived early for a six-week stay.

Students at the HPTC work to meet the U.S. Olympic Committee's standards on nutritional consistency. Athletes from gymnasts to heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestlers to synchronized swimmers will expect the same foods in Beijing as they did during training in San Diego or Colorado Springs, Colo.

”All the athletes will have access to the cafeteria at the HPTC,“ said Jones. ”So the students might be cooking for Lebron James or Kobe Bryant.“

The second group will be assigned to the USA House, serving a wider range of customers, including USOC staffers and Olympic sponsors, and perhaps for the presidential delegation.

The Sullivan contingent works on a set schedule: four days on, one day off for the duration of their stay. On their free days, they'll have the option of exploring the city or watching the Olympic events.

Sarah Null, a student from Ashland, Ohio, is assigned to the USA House. When she's not at work, Null plans to take in as much as possible. ”I want to go everywhere. I want to taste the craziest foods,“ she said. ”It may be my only chance.“

Along with the adventure, students will get a chance to add a line to their résumés. Nate Gibson, who is set to complete his studies in December, will be working the dining rooms at the USA House for connections and future possibilities. ”It's a great chance to network, to talk to businesspeople,“ he said. ”Maybe I'll line up a job after I get out.“