By Dave Mathieson
SPRINGHILL - It's not every day a McDonald's employee gets to see Russian hockey sensation Alexander Ovechkin walk right through their restaurant, but that's exactly what happened to Springhill's Karen Smith.
Smith was one of 11 Nova Scotia McDonald's employees selected to work at restaurants in the athletes village during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and returned from the celebration last Friday.
She made it clear she's not the biggest hockey fan in the world.
"Alexander Ovechkin, I think he plays hockey for the Russian team, came in through the back way through the kitchen at McDonald's one day," Smith said. "I don't know if he was lost, but he came in the wrong way and one of the girls let him in. So he went through the kitchen out to the front.
"Everybody was looking. I saw him but I didn't know who he was."
Other famous athletes she encountered included Rick Nash, who played hockey for Canada.
"He came up to the counter," Smith said. "We saw a lot of athletes in the restaurant but I didn't know them all. People were always pointing them out and saying who they were."
Smith, who has worked at the Amherst McDonald's for 14 years, worked at one of three on-site McDonald's in the village and her hotel was in downtown Vancouver.
She said the Olympic spirit was everywhere.
"People were out on the streets all night and we could hear them hooting and hollering and screaming out our window pretty well all night," Smith said. "And when you went downtown you could barely get through the streets because they were so full of people."
Smith was at the medal ceremony when Canadian moguls specialist Alexandre Bilodeau was presented the first Canadian Olympic gold medal on Canadian soil, and was in attendance when Clara Hughes was presented a bronze medal for speed skating.
"Everybody cheered everyone on, especially the Canadians. Everyone went crazy for the Canadians," Smith said.
The band INXS played a concert after the medal presentation to Hughes.
Smith also sat in the fourth row to watch Sweden beat Belarus in men's hockey by a score of 4-2.
"We had pretty good seats and even though I'm not a hockey person, it was really exciting."
Smith is a fan of figure skating and attended an ice dance competition where she got to see Canadian gold-medal winners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skate.
One of the highlights for Smith was going to the Vancouver aquarium, where Canadian paraplegic athlete Rick Hansen was giving a speech.
"Rick Hansen is such a good speaker. I found it quite emotional." Smith said. "He talked about his personal journey and how you can do anything if you put your mind to it. Everybody got their picture taken with him and his autograph. He's really nice.
"He was in our McDonald's a day or two before his talk at the aquarium and I was the one who got to wait on him so I was really excited to see him again."
Smith also went on a floatplane tour of Vancouver and did a lot of shopping.
"I'm definitely glad I went," she said. "It was the trip of a lifetime."