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Some Olympic Games’ Memories

Jeff Davies Olympic Dream
Jeff Davies in full gear as a Games Maker!

It was at about this time last year that I volunteered (or was I volunteered?) to help at this Summer’s London Olympic Games.  After an interview, a few trips to London for meetings and to collect my kit, besides many emails from LOCOG, I was given a job along with the Transportation Team at ExCel, the Exhibition Centre resembling several aircraft hangars, based adjacent to Custom House and Prince Regent stations on the DLR at the old Royal Victoria Dock area, not far from Canning Town.

70 000 of us were dubbed “Games’ Makers”, dressed in our distinctive purple-and-red tops with cream trousers, and there were about 10 000 in the Transportation Team.  My duty rota consisted of 9 shifts and the times varied from 6.00am – 3.00pm to 3.00pm – 1.00am and others in between, with rest and food breaks within.  On any one day, my duties involved one or more of three possible elements, concerning the dropping off or collection of (i) VIPs or National Olympic Committee members, (ii) Athletes, along with their Coaches, Trainers, Doctors, Physiotherapists, etc…, (iii) Media Personnel, making sure that these groups did not meet with each other before competitions began.  So, I was allocated duties on the ring road which encircled the ExCel Stadium and had no contact with the general public, except when I went to and from my snack/meal break.  I obliged by taking group photographs as requested by a variety of nationalities.

We had been told, at the outset, that as volunteers we should not expect to see any action within any of the five arenas (housing Table Tennis, Fencing, Boxing, Wrestling, Judo, Weight Lifting and Taekwondo).  This was the official line and we accepted that.  However, once the Games had well begun (i.e. from 4th August onwards), we were able to join in the “Olympic Family” (i.e. sit with the Athletes, Coaches, etc…) if there were seats available, as long as we wore a top other than the Games’ Maker top.  This was so that we could not be recognised as being “freeloaders” by the general public watching in the arena or on television.

On Wednesday 1st August, I was on the Athletes’ Stop and was within arm’s length of the G.B. Men’s (Paul Drinkall, Gavin Rumgay etc..) and Ladies’ (Jill Parker etc..) Table Tennis Teams.  I spoke with Jill Parker (formerly Jill Hammersley), who is the current G.B. Ladies’ coach, who told me that Alison Broe was inside doing some commentating.  I chatted with the Swedish Men’s coach and the German Team’s doctor, Dr Klaas, who is about 2 metres tall.  Players like Japan’s Kasumi Ishikawa just filed past me from their double decker bus into the venue.  At the end of the day, I had a personal (by the venue superintendent, Vicky) tour of the facility when it was completely empty, seeing the practice areas and the single table set up for the men’s singles final to come.  I felt privileged to be given this opportunity.

I was able to congratulate Dmitri Ovcharov on gaining his bronze medal in the men’s singles table tennis match and acknowledged Timo Boll as the great German player who was able to test the dominance of the skilful Chinese exponents of the game.

So, on Day 10 of the Games, I arrived early for my shift and took my seat, in the 6000 seater North Arena 1 facility, for the 10.00am Ladies’ Team table tennis competition between China and DPR Korea.  The Chinese squad (Li Xiaoxia, Ding Ning and Guo Yue) comfortably won the first three matches and progressed to meet Japan in the team final.  What speed, skill and athleticism!  In the afternoon session, starting at 2.30pm, I only had time to watch a little of the Men’s Team table tennis competition between China and Germany, watching Ma Long dispatch Dmitri Ovcharov in 4 games and the beginning of the Zhang Jike game against Timo Boll.  I had to begin my duties, which began at 3.45pm.  Again, I had an excellent view of the field of play from the Athletes’ seating area and was very impressed by the players’ abilities and different styles of play.  I was later told that Bob Davies and Jon Barnes, independently, were both at this event, but I did not spot them there.

On Day 11, having earlier bumped into Brian Lamerton (and his son) in the refreshment area, I  slipped into the 11.00am Ladies’ Team table tennis competition between Singapore and South Korea.  Singapore (Feng Timwei, Li Jimwei and Wong Yuegu), gaining the bronze medal, overcame a determined Korean team, which contained an exciting/unusual defensive player (Seok Hajung), who chopped most balls heavily on forehand and backhand sides and who was not averse to throwing in an attacking stroke if the opportunity arose.

There was an opportunity to observe some Graeco-Roman Wrestling at the early afternoon session, before my shift for the day began.  With three matches available to view simultaneously there was plenty of action, with combatants pushing and shoving either trying to get their opponent out of the unfenced ring or to pin them down for a minimum of 30 seconds.  Not my cup of tea!

There are other memories, including meeting with Sonia O’Sullivan, Amir Khan and Lennox Lewis at the Boxing on Day 15, seeing Prince Albert of Monaco and having my picture taken with the Cuban, Sotolongo Iglesias (what was he famous for?).  I spoke with a Slovenian Taekwondo coach who used to paraglide in Slovenia and had recently climbed Mount Triglav.  A Turkish National Olympic Committee member even said that she had enjoyed a paragliding flight at Oludeniz, Turkey.  Then there was the Afghan media man who was overcome by the warm welcome and the hospitality of the people at the Games.  The Turkmenistan coach for Taekwondo was keen to extol the virtues of his country and I was invited to visit China by one of the Chinese Team’s Judo coaches.  The Hungarian spectators on the DLR wondered whether it was a pre-requisite for Games’ Makers to greet folk in their native language when I said “good-day” to them in Hungarian!  The only problem with knowing a few phrases is that people think you might have a wider grasp of their language than exists and they start rapidly talking, as if you were a national of theirs.   Folk on the street in London or on the tube would strike up conversations with you if you were sporting the distinctive Games’ Maker kit, when talking with strangers is an unheard of activity when travelling around the city!

You would think that smoking would impair performances of athletes, but it might surprise you to see the large numbers of North Korean, Ukrainian, Russian and others heavily involved in the sport who are just desperate to have a cigarette!  Perhaps some areas of the world haven’t been enlightened yet.

As tangibles, I have the comfortable kit (see the photograph) to keep as a momento, along with some countries’ “national pins”, freely given, and some fine memories, which will inevitably fade with time, of the camaraderie between Games’ Makers and the wonderful friendliness of competitors and their accompanying entourage.

The weather was really very kind to us during the 15 days and I must admit that the food we were given was generally most acceptable and sufficient.  Getting up at 3.45am and going to bed at 2.45am are outside my normal routine.  It was a tiring once-in-a-lifetime experience, which I was privileged to be involved with.