Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Olympic Experience

Sorry, this blog post is far too long.

Just under two years ago I started off the process of becoming a Games Maker for the London 2012 Olympics. The media was full of stories about how London had bitten off more than it could chew by taking on a project as massive as the Olympics. There were numerous articles about how the city would be gridlocked, the organisation would be terrible, the venues would not be ready on time and it would be the dream target for terrorists. At that point I decided if London was going to be so disrupted it would be barely habitable the best place to be was in the thick of it all. One of my better decisions. Here I am in my lovely uniform. We were even supplied with shoes, socks and a wristwatch and quite a few other bits and bobs as the event progressed.

I went through the selection process (250,000 applicants, 70,000 selected) and found myself assigned to the Technology Team because of my IT background. It was made clear to us that the chances were it would be a back-office role (where technology belongs) and that being a volunteer was definitely not a short cut to free tickets or a cushy job in the Olympic stadium

The build-up was managed through a series of training days and I found myself assigned to the taekwondo event. A sport I knew close to nothing about.

In December last year we were required to attend a test event and I was assigned a role I had not expected at all. I would be operating one of four video cameras in the arena that was used to record all the action. In the event of a disputed score in the bout, judges would use the video footage we recorded to review the action and decide if the objection was valid. Quite a responsible role (I like responsibility) and not something I would have expected to be delegated to unpaid volunteers. We were actually seconded to Omega who are the official scorers and timekeepers of the whole of the Olympics

The test event went well and I made some new friends. Everyone (and importantly Omega) seemed happy with our work. We enjoyed it as well and I learnt a lot about taekwondo. Team photo here. 

Last week I had just about the most enjoyable five days of ‘work’ I’ve had in a long, long time. Tuesday was our final training day where we got to see the inside of the venue the day before the four day taekwondo tournament started. We received final training on the equipment which was different to the cameras we’d used at the test event. This is the venue the evening before the competition started.

I had been assigned four day shifts (Wednesday to Saturday) from 7am to 6:15pm each day. On the Thursday I’d also been offered an extra evening shift meaning on that day I would start at 7am and finish at around 11:30pm. With a 2.5 hour round-trip commute, we worked long days.

Our little team of six had to operate four cameras in the arena. Two cameras were on the arena floor filming the action at ground level. These were remote control cameras which we operated with a joystick and small monitor while sitting at a desk. The other two cameras were positioned in one of the stands and were normal tripod mounted video cameras which gave a view down onto the action. The judges also had access to TV footage and there was also a static camera in the roof of the venue pointed directly down on to the action. A new development was that the footage was also replayed to the 8,000 people in the audience on giant TV screens so they could see how the judges made their decision. We took a small amount of pride when it was our footage that decided a crucial point and the audience cheered if they favoured the decision.

This technology is relatively new to taekwondo and it was hoped it would lead to more transparency in the judging process which had been somewhat controversial in Beijing. I’m led to believe taekwondo’s  place in the Olympics was under threat and it was hoped that the introduction of this level of technology would secure their place in future Olympics. 

Sorry about that rather long and boring introduction – I hope you’re still with me. The next four days of competition were great fun. The venue looked spectacular and being on the arena floor surrounded by 8,000 spectators who were encouraged to make as much noise as possible by the announcer was incredible. The London 2012 audiences have been incredible. They cheered all competitors from all countries but when a GB competitor was in the arena it was deafening.

On the Thursday (my extra long shift) one of the GB competitors was Jade Jones. A promising nineteen year old who it was hoped might be in with a good chance of a medal at the end of the day. She wasn’t considered our best medal hope but the GB team were having a good Olympics and hopes were high. There are no certainties in taekwondo. It’s a fast explosive sport and it’s not unusual for a good player to be beaten by a lesser opponent who can spring a few surprise moves and catch the better player unaware. Our best medal hope was knocked out of the competition the next day in the first round. She was distraught, as were about 7,500 other people in the arena. 
Jade breezed through her early rounds and was soon in the semi-final. I was working on the arena floor that evening and being on the arena floor filming the action was just about the best seat in the house. That it was a GB competitor who was competing for a medal made it all the more exciting. What can I say…Jade was an absolute star and won the gold medal and I WAS THERE! At the end of the evening was the medal ceremony which again took place right in the middle of the arena and I was still there at my desk. A huge privilege to be on the arena floor watching an Olympic medal ceremony from only a few metres away.

On the Friday, Lutalo Muhammed, another GB competitor, got a bronze medal. Go Lutalo! Through no fault of his own, he became mixed up in a controversy where he was selected for the Olympics instead of Aaron Cook who many believed was a better competitor. He was under enormous pressure to perform and deliver and a bronze medal was a great achievement.

The whole Olympic experience has been incredible. The organisation was perfect and London for the last two weeks has been completely transformed. All the cynics who were salivating at the prospect of things going wrong were stunned into silence the moment the opening ceremony was revealed. The more magnanimous of the critics even admitted to being wrong and switched sides and became enthusiastic supporters. The rest fortunately just shut up. 

Ninja – if you’re still reading, I sadly only saw the closing ceremony on TV and didn’t get to see up VB’s dress. 


Gia said...

Ah, SO SO SO COOL! Love the behind the scenes pics.

Terra Shield said...

Great to know that the whole thing was a huge success, and that there weren't any crazy terrorists. Thanks for sharing the behind the scenes stuff.

It's also fun to say that I 'know' someone who was a volunteer at the Olympics ;)

Nota Bene said...

So glad that you too had a brilliant Olympics experience....it was the best thing for the country and everyone involved seems to have come away with nothing but praise...and happiness. You were so lucky to be given that role...and even more to see Jade Jones win gold...she's a treasure isn't she?!

I always thought the moaners and groaners would be proved wrong, and so glad I was right.

King of Scurf said...

Gia: If the Olympics ever come anywhere near your town, get involved - because they probably won't come back in your lifetime.

King of Scurf said...

Terra: I hope it looked as good to the rest of the world as it looked to us here. We're probably a little biased about how good a show we put on.

King of Scurf said...

NB: We won't see anything like this again, that's for sure.

I go all misty-eyed whenever Jade Jones is mentioned. She is just the sweetest kid that ever kicked someone in the head!

nursemyra said...

I read it al. Fantastic behind the scenes reporting Nick