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Austin hotel worker finds gold in Canada

Helen Anders

When NBC's "Today Show" broadcast live from the base of Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, B.C., at the start of the Olympics, one of the faces of Canada smiling behind Meredith Vieira was actually the face of Austin.

That dark-haired young woman holding the Four Seasons Whistler sign? That was Kerri Holden, public relations director of Four Seasons Austin, on temporary assignment at Four Seasons Whistler during the Winter Games. Tough duty, right?

Actually, it is.

"I'm working 80 hours a week," Holden says as she sips her coffee in the lobby of the hotel, which is a ski-lodge-elegant version of Four Seasons, with ceiling timbers and stone fireplaces. (I know this because she described it; alas, I could not venture to Whistler to join her.) "But it's exciting to be up here, to see all the people. I missed Joe Biden by about two minutes."

Holden considered, for a moment, chasing Biden into a restaurant to bestow upon him a chocolate gold medal. She's been handing the goodies out to media all week on behalf of the hotel. She decided against pursuing the vice president; the Secret Service might object.

Holden's objective during her Olympics assignment is to pester the 3,000 uncredentialed media who aren't covering the sporting events (downhill skiing, bobsled, luge and skeleton are based in Whistler) but need to find some sort of feature. The chocolate gold medals, she said, have been popular.

"People come up to us and say, 'Oh, did you win a medal?' And I explain, no, they're chocolate," she says.

But Four Seasons' biggest photo op has turned out to be a cocktail invented just for the Olympics.

"Our Torch Cocktail is lemongrass-infused vodka, MonaVie energy drink and pear pur?e. It's served in a copper glass that looks like a torch, and we set it on fire," she says. The drink costs $28, and the cameras love it. The problem is that TV can take time, and after about three minutes the fire in the drink starts to lick down the copper glass.

"This Japanese station was doing a story and taking a long time because we had to do translation," she says. "I had to interrupt and say, 'I'm sorry; we have to stop. This glass is going to catch on fire.' I picked up the glass and took it back to the bar, and I almost caught myself on fire."

Aside from nearly getting literally fired, Holden is enjoying her time on the mountain, living sometimes in the luxurious hotel, when it's not full, and sometimes in staff lodging — a dormlike arrangement in a nearby building. "But they give us Four Seasons comforters and robes and L'Occitane bath products," she says. "It's not like my college dorm."

The entire staff is working tirelessly, she says, serving hot chocolate and muffins in the lobby and dealing with requests from celebrities. Ever-discreet Holden won't name them but says you'd recognize them, and there's a big pile of them, many arriving as guests of Olympics sponsors. Concierges occasionally must stand in long lines to score event tickets for hotel guests.

Holden's primary assignment, though, has been to just be out in the Olympic Village, trying her best to bring attention to the hotel in ways such as standing behind Meredith Vieira way too early in the morning.

"Our general manager said, 'I want you guys to lock your office door and be out there,' " she says. "It's hard work, but it's fun, and there's a light at the end of the tunnel. You just go on adrenalin."

handers@statesman.com; 912-2590