"Please can you gather between the two placards...If you could please gather between the two placards that would be really great...we would REALLY love it if you could get between the two placards so we can move off on time...It's 22:11, let's go time to move off!"
On Friday night while the rest of the country (and the world) was huddled around television screens ready and eager to end 7 years of waiting for the highly secretive Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, myself and the rest of the NOC Assistant team were reaching our own highly anticipated event. All our work and training had been building up to the start of the Games and one thing I'd been most excited about, was completing the privileged role of marching with the athletes through the Village and depositing them safely to the Olympic Stadium. We'd been given an hour to gather up our athletes and marching officials before walking them through to the Olympic Stadium for that iconic and unique event; the Athlete's Parade. I hadn't quite imagined how tough it was going to be to get them in the right place at the right (and highly specific) time.
We knew that we would be surrounded by what are some of the most famous athletes in the world but the furore and circus that surrounded the USA Basketball Dream Team even within the safety of the Olympic Village was a factor that made our job more intense than expected and the evening yet more surreal for me. Other athletes and officials from other countries were desperate to have their photos taken with superstars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James; understandable, but we had a time to keep to! As we waited to cross over into the Olympic Park we were suddenly aware of a huge roar and cheering...Team GB were about to start their march. I caught a glimpse of Sir Chris Hoy at the front of the heaving crowd of white and gold clad athletes. Divided loyalties? Not really...we'd already agreed that when it came down to USA vs GB it was GB all the way!
We gave them a wave and a cheer and continued on our way to the Olympic Stadium through the stunningly lit Olympic Park. It was at this point that I caught a glimpse of my hero and idol. I had informed my team that if they were ever to see her they must notify me immediately. A job they completed impeccably as a prod in the back came and pointed out to me a blonde blob in the darkness. Sat up on high in the perfectly placed BBC Studios - the back of the head of Sue Barker...it absolutely made my night. I was explaining to one of the USA Men's Water Polo team as to why I was so excited by seeing the back of Sue Barker's head...with Kobe Bryant standing just behind. Only now do I realise how odd this situation was. Wandering around the Village you become desensitised to seeing some of the most famous athletes in the world on a daily basis but some people will always remain legendary in my eyes.
With Team USA successfully escorted, we said our goodbyes and cheered them on their way. From this point on we had to rely on the memories of the dress rehearsal two days previously where we had marched as athletes. A fantastic experience that I'll never forget but nothing in comparison to what the athletes were about to experience as, unlike those of us who marched into an empty stadium, they would be welcomed by a raucous crowd. We stayed to watch Team USA enter the stadium on the big screen outside the stadium and gave them a huge cheer. However, shortly after this the screens were switched off, much to the disappointment of the crowd of volunteers that had gathered. A voice came over the tannoy announcing that if we needed to get to the Village we needed to get there within 5 minutes before the area went into lock down. We sprinted back down the route, desperate to get back to our home in the Village to watch the rest of the ceremony. Little did we know the reason why we were being cleared from the area was going to be so spectacular.
Still buzzing from the events earlier in the evening I went back up to our Sports Medicine Clinic where we found that the team had set up a TV on the balcony which overlooked the Olympic Stadium and Park. We were able to watch the rest of the ceremony topped by the most incredible fireworks display. It felt like we were directly underneath them and could feel the vibrations emitted from each explosion. The feeling on our balcony was that this Opening Ceremony was a triumph.
Now we are a few days into the Games it feels like all other pre-games worries are forgotten and the Opening Ceremony a distant memory, for now the sport and athletes take centre stage. Already Team USA have gold medallists and are dominating in the pool. It's refreshing to finally be talking about performances of the elite athletes for whom all these preparations have been for. This is what the Olympics is really about.
Come on Team GB...and Team USA...but not if they're competing against each other...
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