Seven years after London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, in July 2012 the Games were finally here and my Games Maker experience was about to begin.
During our training in April we learnt that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) holds its annual meeting, the IOC Session, in the week before the Games. Therefore some of the IOC Team Assistants were already needed during that period. I had signed up for a total of ten shifts and started my three weeks off work on Monday 23 July. When I received my shift plan at the end of May, I found out that my first shift would be on Wednesday 25 July, two days before the opening ceremony.
Final preparations – venue training
The real countdown started on 13 July. On a Friday evening about 150 volunteers arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel near Hyde Park Corner for our venue specific training. A week earlier I had received an email confirming my role as IOC Media Relations Assistant (Media and Press Centre). I wasn’t sure what this meant and completely ignored the reference to the MPC.
The session started with a motivational video, followed by details about the logistics and workforce operations in the Olympic Family hotels. The Olympic Family consists of the IOC members and their families, representatives of each country’s National Olympic Committee, representatives of the International Sports Federations and members of the organising committees of future Olympic Games. They stayed in five different hotels in the area. The IOC members stayed at the London Hilton in Park Lane which is also where the IOC staff offices had been set up, although the IOC staff stayed in one of the other hotels. After the presentation we were split up into groups. Me and my fellow IOC Team Assistants got a quick tour of the areas in the Hilton that were being transformed into staff offices for the different IOC teams. So many corridors, boxes and temporary workstations!
When I picked up my uniform at the UDAC, several people commented on the fact that my accreditation included access to ALL venues and the Olympic Village. Of course I was hoping that an IOC member might need me to accompany them to the Olympic Village or the opening ceremony! Unfortunately there had been a mistake with our accreditation. During the venue training our cards were swapped and we no longer had automatic access to all sports venues and the athletes’ village. It would have been too good to be true!
First technical rehearsal – 23 July
I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the first rehearsal of the opening ceremony five days before the Big Day. Walking over the bridge at the Stratford entrance triggered a mix of emotions. I felt very privileged to see the park before the official opening, excited about my first shift a couple of days later and a bit nervous about London’s ability to cope.
It turned out to be a magical evening. I got there early and had enough time to explore the area around the stadium. The crowd were mainly other volunteers, Olympic support staff and local residents from the Olympic boroughs, all people whose lives had been touched by the London Olympics in one way or another. It was very moving to see the surprise and excitement in people’s faces. I sat next to a Councillor from a local borough who works as a nurse within the NHS. She was almost in tears during the sequence which paid tribute to the NHS! I absolutely loved the change from the ‘green and pleasant land’ to the Industrial Revolution and still get goosebumps when I think of the army of drummers creating the soundtrack to this section. I had sneaked in a small camera and was relieved that nobody stopped us from taking pictures. We were simply asked not to share any details until the actual opening ceremony. I eventually blogged some pictures and was surprised when I was contacted by a volunteer in the ceremony who recognised herself in one of my pictures!
The evening ended with a good test of the transport system when we heard after the show that there was no service on the Central Line at all. Luckily I had more than one travel option. I waited about half an hour to get onto the fast Javelin train to King’s Cross and was home just after midnight.
My first shift
As a well prepared Londoner my plan was to avoid public transport and use the London Cycle Hire scheme instead. The affectionately called Boris Bikes are dotted around the city and are free to use for journeys up to 30 minutes.
Once I parked my bike near the Hilton, I had trouble finding my way around due to the security barriers surrounding the hotels. As I rushed around to report for my first shift on time, Princess Anne (or rather: the Princess Royal, the British IOC member) walked past me on her way to the IOC Session at Grosvenor House! Was this the beginning of rubbing shoulders with the VIPs?
I sign in for my first shift and collect my lunch voucher.
Another IOC Team Assistant and I are met by an IOC staff member who tells us that we should have been at the Media and Press Centre in the Olympic Park rather than the Hilton. Off we go to the Olympic Park by tube.
Arrival at the workforce entrance in Stratford. Somehow we manage to get separated and I learn an important lesson: save people’s phone numbers straight away!
It is a beautiful summer morning and feels like the quiet before the storm. The only other people around are other Games Makers and members of the Armed Forces. I walk underneath the large Welcome sign and feel like it is there just for me. May the adventure begin!
After a 15 minute walk across the Park and another 15 minutes of finding my way around the MPC (rows and rows of desks for print journalists), I find a tiny little office marked IOC Communications. No sign of my fellow Games Maker yet.
The other Games Maker finally appears. Her accreditation wasn’t valid as it had not been swapped over at the venue training. We meet a third Games Maker who started the previous day and is busy answering journalists’ queries at a little information desk (such as: What is the total number of accredited journalists at the Olympics?).
We are told by the IOC staff that only two Games Makers are needed at the MPC to help at the IOC’s general information stand and that one of us should go back to the Hilton! This is the moment that decides my fate for the next two weeks. They are looking for someone to support the IOC web publishing team and I am the only one who has previous web publishing experience. In addition, I am also very keen to stay at the Hilton as I don’t need public transport to get there. I have a telephone chat with the IOC webmaster to see what the role involves and I seem to fit the bill. Back to the Hilton it is.
Arrival at the hotel where I meet Anne, Peter and Arturo, the members of the IOC web team. Before we start properly, I get some lunch at the workforce canteen, a large conference room at one of the nearby hotels.
14:00 to 18:00
I meet Feliksa, my fellow Games Maker, who started the previous day. We are given a selection of pictures from the athletes’ village and have to select between five and ten of these for the picture gallery. Once Anne has approved our selection, we resize the images and save them in different sizes to prepare them for publication. It is a really enjoyable afternoon that goes far too quick. By the end of it I have almost forgotten about the chaotic start and look forward to being back tomorrow!