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She's got Olympic fever again

Linda Hood isn't afraid to admit it. She's a Summer Olympics junkie.

The Woodbury resident's devotion to the Games knows no borders as she has traveled from Atlanta to Athens and from Barcelona to Beijing (this weekend) to not only witness the most prestigious international sporting event in the world, but to work at it.

Hood has been a volunteer at nearly every Summer Olympics in the last quarter century, beginning with the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

"I've always been a sports nut and that's where I grew up and was going to school at the time, so I naturally wanted to see the Games and be involved," said Hood, 49, who was to depart on her planned 21-day trip to Beijing for the 8/8/08 Olympics this week.

The California native and amateur triathlete, marathon runner and biker, said her favorite sporting event to volunteer for is swimming.

"It's probably, for me, the most exciting sport to watch," Hood said. "There's some intense rivalries between the top countries, and the U.S. has a great team every year."

Hood emphasized though, that she doesn't restrict her cheering for her compatriots.

"Every one of the athletes, regardless of the country they're representing, are fun to cheer for," she said.

During the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, Hood found herself celebrating with the Netherlands swim team after the men's 4X100 relay earned a silver.

"It was just crazy," Hood recalled. "I helped seat one of their family members and the next thing I know they invited me to hang out with them after the event."

The entire team signed a blaze orange hat for Hood, which is one of the highlights of her Olympics experience.

Experience counts

Hood said most people don't know that it's relatively easy to sign up to volunteer at the Olympics.

"From custodial work to security to escorting the athletes from their buses to the event, there's a wide range of opportunities to volunteer," Hood said. "The trick is to get the jobs and hours you want."

Hood, who prefers to work stadium admissions during the swimming events and escort during the opening and closing ceremonies, said that it took a few Games for her to know how to find the right connections.

"You definitely have to know how to network," she said. "In Athens, I met a volunteer who was American but he had Greek heritage. He ended up pulling some strings so a group I was in could work at the closing ceremonies."

Nearly every Olympic volunteer receives a pass that allows them free lodging and a chance to get into many of the events.

Hood said she usually forgoes the free lodging in favor of her own arrangements at a nearby hotel.

Volunteers do have to pay for their own travel expenses, but Hood, who is a scientist, said she doesn't mind.

"I consider this a once-every-four-years vacation," she said.

Although she's never had trouble finding volunteer opportunities and getting up close encounters with the athletes during the Olympics, Hood said before she departed for China last week that she was a little nervous about the Beijing Games.

"At this point, I haven't received an assignment yet, so, yeah, I'm kind of walking into this one blind," she said. "But I've been to enough of these events that I know who to talk (with) to make it happen. If it doesn't work out I already have plans for a tour of the country, but I think it should work out."

Hood said she loved the Sydney Games and enjoyed her first taste of the Olympics in L.A., but said she has a good feeling about Beijing.

"I think this will be a great stage for the Olympics," she said. "China had a lot of work to do to get ready, so it will be fun to see how it turns out."