Random acts of kindness

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You know those brilliant moments when you happen to be in the right place at the right time? Obviously some are better than others and, for me, it didn’t really get much better than this:

I happened to be up a little early that day since I needed to find a library and finish off some work. Once I had that out of the way, there was still some time until my Wembley Arena rehearsal (it was now around 12, and I didn’t start until 6:30). I happened to be in Leyton since I knew they had a library and, it being so close to Stratford, I decided to make my way to Westfield and have a bit of a browse. If I’m being honest, Westfield seems to have been my default “I’m bored and don’t know what to do” place, so this was nothing new to me.

Once I arrived at Stratford, I made my way into Westfield. To get there from Stratford involved crossing a bridge over the station and, as I crossed this bridge, I was stopped by a stranger walking in the opposite direction. I initially thought he might be asking for directions to the Olympic park (I was wearing uniform at the time). He then proceeded to take a ticket out of his bag and I thought he was a ticket tout!

As it turns out, he had a ticket to the handball in the basketball arena. He had since acquired a ticket to see the basketball in ExCeL so he had a spare ticket and, not wanting it to fall into the hands of the touts, he decided he’d give it to the first games maker he saw… which happened to be me! 🙂 He then walked off excitedly shouting “basketball! WOOOOO!”

So I was left standing there with a ticket in my hands. I’d already seen handball once, and was actually quite excited at the prospect of seeing another match – and it solved the time dilemma quite nicely since it filled up the time between then and my shift.

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For those who are interested, the match was France v Spain, and the final score was 23-22 to France. It was a very close match and I personally thought Spain were the better team, but it was a win nonetheless.

Camping 😐

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One of the benefits of having a significant break between Lee Valley and Wembley is that I had a chance to come home for a few days – it’s not that I don’t enjoy London, but I can’t afford to stay in London too long without having a purpose for being there – strange things happen to my bank balance when I do! But when you go from camping to your own house and bed, you realise pretty quickly what the downfalls of your particular campsite are:

  • Uncomfortable sleeping arrangements: Okay, pretty obvious and probably applies to all campsites, but you don’t appreciate how comfortable your own bed is until you spend a few nights without it.
  • Low flying aircraft: Not one of the most common problems with campsites, but it would appear that our campsite is directly under a busy flight path – maybe not Heathrow-busy, but frequent enough to be annoying! It appears that flights do stop for the night, but it doesn’t coincide with sleep schedules when you have an early start towards the west of London, and you’re camping in the east!
  • Mosquitoes: In central London? Yes, it turns out I’m camping at the boundary of Hackney Marsh and the lower Lee Valley – I’m still finding new mosquito bites days after leaving the site!
  • Temperature regulation: Pretty simple in a house, it’s something you can easily take for granted: You fall asleep pretty content with your temperature, you wake up at 3 or 4 AM needing to add an extra layer or two, and you wake up at around 9 in a stuffy tent due to the heating effects of the sun on canvas – not the most pleasant cycle to be taken through.sam_5080
  • Overpatriotism: No, believe it or not, we British are not the culprits here! The site is actually shared between two campsites, one of which is called “De Oranjecamping” and is formed of the Netherlands supporters. Many of them seem friendly enough, but when their patriotism exceeds that of the British campers (with all their flags, lions and overuse of the colour orange) you find yourself having to compensate! I happened upon a pair of wellies in union jack colours and decided I’d buy them because they were cheap enough *cough* Primark *cough*. As soon as the Olympics are over, I’ll probably never use them again (especially since I normally identify myself as Welsh over British).
  • “Right in the heart of London”: As it turns out, you can define a 20-minute commute to the city centre as still being central London… if only I knew this before camping. Then again, I suppose there aren’t many green spaces in the city centre and there would be very angry people if all the parks were taken over by tents.

As you can tell, I look forward to my return tomorrow!

Thoughts on the Victory Ceremonies costumes

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Most of you should, by now, be familiar with the costume worn by victory ceremonies volunteers thanks to Team GB’s sudden surge of gold medals (if not, it’s in a few of the previous posts). While the costume has grown on me since I first saw it back in July, it does have its fair share of critics – many people see past the victory ceremonies aspect and see all sorts of different things. Here’s a rundown of the ones I’ve heard:

  • Star Trek – By far the most common description (thanks Daily Mail!), this is what most people have come to associate the costume with. Unfortunately, it is struggling to shake off this reputation and it had become something of an inside joke – I even heard one of the other medal bearers say “beam me up, Scotty” on the way back from the field of play!
  • Cabin crew – Yes, this is also pretty common. What people can’t agree on is the price point of the airline; with some saying we’d be a high end airline and others saying we’re far too tacky and would be a good fit for selling scratchards and £10 sandwiches!
  • Bond villain – One of my friends (as explained in a previous post) said that I looked like a Bond villain and she could imagine me sitting in a chair and stroking a cat… sounds about right!
  • Priest – Without the jacket, the collar makes us look similar to priests… apparently.
  • Premier Inn – This one actually made me laugh – someone said that a group photo of us looked like the head office of Premier Inn!

There’s still a lot of time left, so I’m sure there will be plenty more to come!

The day has finally arrived! :D

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I actually got up pretty early this morning. Not out of choice, but it was about an hour before my alarm was set. When you’re sleeping in a tent, you tend to prefer getting up than rolling over and going back to sleep. My shift was scheduled to start at 12:00, but getting to Lee Valley from Walthamstow is not particularly difficult since it only takes about half an hour, including connections.

Today was the day – my first victory ceremony of London 2012! I was definitely excited, even more so given that Richard Hounslow was in the semi-final. The pattern seems to be that BBC One televise any victory ceremony that includes Team GB and I was desperately hoping he’d at least get a medal of any colour!

To get to Lee Valley, I had to catch a train from Tottenham Hale – and so did everyone else! I got asked a total of ten times whether the next train went to Lee Valley and I was so glad I’d already been there. The train was packed and it was impossible to get a seat, so I was glad the train only takes about five minutes.

When I arrived, the first thing on the agenda was lunch. The workforce break area had a lot more people in it than last time since the venue is now operational. There are many TV screens dotted around the place, and they happened to have the rowing on at the time. The atmosphere was one of excitement, since the Team GB rowers were doing really well and were miles ahead of the other teams – everyone was cheering them on. When they finally crossed the line in first position, the cheers were unbelievable – it was our first gold medal of 2012, and you could tell! Everybody just stopped everything they were doing and joined together in applause.

Added to this excitement, was the news from our co-ordinator that we could watch the semi-finals from the stands if we could find empty seats – there were plenty! It appears that there was a corporate booking of some sort, but nobody bothered to attend. It’s actually quite frustrating, knowing how sought after most Olympic tickets are, when you see such massive gaps.

The first four kayakers came on and it was all very exciting, but on came our hopeful – Richard Hounslow!

Richard Hounslow

He was our hope of another medal… and he came in 6 seconds after Togo – not one of his best performances by a long shot. There goes my BBC One appearance!

After getting ready for the ceremony, we waited at the back for a while in our little white tent. We were completely unaware of what was going on and, for all I knew, Togo could have won. As it turns out, the winner was Daniele Molmenti of Italy. That’s who I was giving a medal to.

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Daniele Molmenti's Gold Medal

Shortly after, came the news that it was Molmenti’s birthday, and any disappointment that GB wasn’t there quickly dissipated when I realised that I’d be giving him one of the best birthday gifts he’d ever received!

Me with Molmenti's medal

We then arrived at that crucial moment; the ceremony itself. There were 15 minutes between the end of the final and the ceremony, and we knew about it thanks to a countdown from the Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS). When the OBS eventually gave us our cue, we walked proudly onto the stage – this was our moment to shine, and I was certainly going to make the most of it.

In terms of the ceremony, we executed our shuffle elegantly, got our timings right and it was a very successful ceremony. Despite getting my timings correct, the presenter waited a while to applaud Molmenti for what seemed like an eternity. He did eventually come to give him his medal and wish him a happy birthday, as did the flower presenter. Looking back on the footage, either the wait was a lot shorter than I imagined, or it was cleverly cut to be shorter – I guess I’ll never know!

He did leave a little something behind after he got changed for the ceremony – it was a photo opportunity that couldn’t be missed! (We did give it back afterwards… begrudgingly!)

Molmenti's paddle

This was a moment I’ll never forget, the feeling you get when walking out is indescribable. In a sense, though, this was just a practice run; walking out in front of 15,000 people at Lee Valley in preparation for 90,000 at Wembley stadium – scary stuff!

For those who didn’t see the event, there is a video (that I happen to feature in) which can be found here: BBC Sport – Olympics canoeing: Italy’s Daniele Molmenti wins gold in K1 kayak. The results were as follows:

Gold medal Daniele Molmenti ITA Italy
Silver medal Vavřinec Hradílek Czech Republic
Bronze medal Hannes Aigner Germany

Handball

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sam_5291I decided a while back that I wanted to experience at least one event as a spectator – not wearing uniform, not being stopped by people to find out where something is and to be subjected to the full brunt of Olympic food prices (OK, not strictly true, I bought my own lunch in 😀 ).

When I saw that handball tickets were on sale, I found myself really tempted. I was aware that handball was a popular event in a lot of countries and many people who have seen a game have enjoyed it. For £20, I thought “why not?”

I got to the Olympic park a little early (well, 3 hours in advance!) I explored the park and it was only then that I realised the sheer scale of it – it took me about half an hour to walk from the entrance to the basketball arena! Obviously it makes sense that the venues have a bit of breathing space for crowd control purposes, but it still surprises you.

Eventually, I made my way to the Copper Box (the venue for Olympic handball) and waited for the doors to open. While stood here, a loudspeaker informed us that the venue is “not called the copper box for nothing” and is covered in 3,000 square metres of copper cladding – thanks loudspeaker, that was actually pretty interesting… the first time I heard it! For the half an hour or so I was waiting to get in, I heard this little fact about 15 times!

Anyway, handball was far more exciting than I expected – I think they may have converted me into a handball follower! For those of you who are not familiar with it, handball is a mashup of a few different sports – the ball handling of basketball, the goals of football (and the brutality of rugby!!) There are also a lot of goals scored in a game.

I got to see two games; Great Britain vs Russian Federation and then France vs Spain (both women). Obviously my support went to GB, but I was disappointed when Russia managed to score around double what GB did – a valiant effort nonetheless, especially considering that handball is not commonly played in Britain. France and Spain managed to draw, and they seemed pretty evenly matched.

The Copper Box

Whenever I’d been watching sports matches in the past, and seen shots of the managers or coaches watching from the sidelines, I always assumed someone was watching them through a telephoto lens. So you can imagine my surprise to see how close the cameras actually got!

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To be honest, I’d be pretty annoyed with a camera this close to me. I’d also find it difficult not to acknowledge it! So glad I’m not important enough to be subjected to this. 😀

In future, I think I may be watching more handball – this has definitely got me interested!

Reality hasn’t quite hit me yet!

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I’ve been in London for a few days now, and it still doesn’t feel real – probably due to the juxtaposition of being involved in a massive worldwide event and the fact that my home for the Olympics is a tent three miles north of Stratford. Had someone told me, back in 2005 when we got the Olympics, that I’d be a medal bearer I wouldn’t have believed them! Had they then told me that I’d be watching the swimming on an iPad in a tent three miles north of the aquatics centre, I definitely wouldn’t have believed them (actually, I’d ask them what the hell an iPad is, but that’s a different matter entirely!!)

My home for the Olympics

My home for the Olympic games!

I’ll soon have my first victory ceremony, and I feel both excited and nervous. For now though, I have a few days off to enjoy London before. I’ve managed to acquire tickets to see handball at the Copper Box in a few days, so I’m quite looking forward to that – not only because it’ll be a chance to watch an Olympic event as a spectator, but because I’ll also get into the Olympic park (none of my ceremonies are based there).

I’m now off to see what other tickets I can get my hands on – wish me luck!!

Ghost stadium

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There’s something strange about a stadium with no people in it – not when you’re being taken on a tour, but when you’re actually involved operationally. The stadium is almost empty apart from a handful of people, most in games maker uniform, and it doesn’t feel as if it’s about to stage Olympic football matches.

This was, of course, our second on-venue rehearsal. After all the training at 3 Mills, this was our chance to try it out in the venue with the real podium, on the real field-of-play, even with the real announcer (as opposed to our producer shouting at us in French!!)

Before starting, we were given a brief tour of our operational areas, and our main one is the field of play. As we were walking out of the tunnel, I imagined a full stadium of around 90,000 people – and the thought actually scares me! On the way out through the tunnel, there’s a quote from Baron Pierre de Coubertin (the founder of the modern Olympics), which is a nice touch. It reminds the athletes why they go out there – to have fun and try their hardest!

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Wembley

And this is our main base – one of the athlete changing rooms – I feel quite privileged to be based here, and there aren’t many that can say they’ve actually used one of the rooms (used, not been in). We quickly made ourselves comfortable!

sam_5274And this is the lovely, Royal College of Art-designed suit we’ll be wearing for our ceremonies!

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Also, if you do notice some strange formations being used during Olympic football matches, we may have had something to do with that – everyone got excited when someone noticed the whiteboard in the corner, and people were quick to use it for their own “tactics talk”.

Tactics whiteboard

And last, but not least, this is my team for the Olympics. There are 24 teams (as far as I’m aware) and we happen to be called team V. We’re the biggest team since there are 18 medal/flower bearers in the team – football is the largest victory ceremony in the Olympics with 18 athletes in each team.

Victory Ceremonies Team V

Lee Valley Rehearsals

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So by now, you may think that the job of Victory Ceremonies people is to stand and look pretty – it’s so much more than that (well, for the others at least!) The victory ceremonies team works with almost every other functional area (if not all) from the Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS) to ensure that the ceremony looks its best on TV, sports presentation to ensure that the athletes are in the correct order (not too much of a problem for canoe slalom), UPS to make sure all our costumes have arrived on venue and even catering (yes, medal bearers DO require food!)

A lot of rehearsals go into that short ceremony you see on TV – it’s been over a month since I started training, and I haven’t even done a real ceremony yet! For those of you who are interested, this is what a rehearsal looks like. I’m not in it, but it does give you a sense of what’s going on:

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Opening Ceremony Rehearsal

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*NOTE: This post was written on July 25th, but it wasn’t published until AFTER the opening ceremony to save the surprise.*

This morning, I made my way to London not realising the magnitude of what was to come. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I acquired tickets to one of the “secret” opening ceremony rehearsals – you know, the one that wasn’t much of a secret! Since London 2012 have the mammoth task of following Beijing 2009, I wasn’t expecting much of Danny Boyle and his massive team of volunteers and performers.

As most of you will have probably seen it by the time you read this post, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that Danny Boyle is an absolute genius – he definitely impressed the sceptics. I managed to get amazing seats in row 7, which made for some stunning photos:

The walk to the Olympic park:

Walking to the Olympic Park

I have to admit, the Olympic Stadium looks fantastic – definitely an iconic stadium:

The Olympic Stadium and The Orbit

Me at the Olympic Park

The Olympic Stadium

I think we can safely say the weather was better for the rehearsal than it was for the ceremony itself! Despite this, there was this one cloud I didn’t like the look of:

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This bit was entitled “Pandemonium” – it involved the deconstruction of the set to make way for the industrial revolution:

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As a tribute to the fallen troops of the country, they slowed down the ceremony in their honour. I think it was these parts that made the opening ceremony what it was – without them, it would have been an emotionless extravaganza.

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And in come the Olympic rings!

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The nurses were fantastic! To think that most of these people have never been in the performing arts before makes their achievement extraordinary – even more so considering that some of them fit rehearsals around full time jobs in the NHS!

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The joys of being at a rehearsal is that we get a conductor without an orchestra:

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Rehearsals

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The sound of an alarm at 6:15am is not the most pleasant experience in the world… luckily I woke up five minutes before my alarm! I had to travel to London again, and this time it was for my first victory ceremonies rehearsal. Once again, it was a long return journey ahead of me and I boarded the 7:22 train from Bangor and, thankfully, I managed to get a direct train and avoided the pleasure (!) of having to change trains.

The train was pretty quiet, but I looked around me and noticed that every other seat was reserved from Chester. As we pulled in to the station at Chester, it was almost impossible to see the platform through the crowd of people. Nobody got off the train, but it felt as if the entire population of Chester were getting on! It only took a few minutes, and all the seats were taken up with a lot of people still standing. A man (presumably American because of his accent) spoke to his wife and asked “why would you sell more tickets than you have seats?”, to which a fellow passenger quickly responded “welcome to Britain!” I did feel sorry for those still standing, but when another passenger dismisses your seat reservation and insists that they have a God-given right to your seat my sympathy somewhat diminishes… especially when the passenger in question only has a twenty-minute journey to Crewe!

After I finally got to 3 Mills Studios in London, I got to finally put faces to the names of my producer and coordinator. We started off with the obligatory meeting of fellow team members and team-building exercises (involving oversized tennis balls and miming!) Of course, one of the highlights of the day was that we finally got to try on our costume. A common complaint was that a few people had changed sizes since measurements were taken in January – I was quite pleased that my terrible student diet hadn’t caused weight changes!

The costume is, well… purple! It’s unlike anything I’ve ever worn in my life. Given the way it looks, it should feel like a suit, but it doesn’t! It’s probably going to take a while to get used to the sleeves and the lack of a lapel. I’m not sure if the costumes are designed to allow us to blend in or to draw attention to us, but I imagine it will achieve the latter!

Costume   Costume

I finally found out what team I’m on:

Costume

Obviously, having been designed by the Royal College of Art, they needed to make some sort of statement with our costumes, but the costume does have its critics. Some say that it looks reminiscent of Star Trek, some just say it looks downright ridiculous. I did get some interesting comments on it, including the one below:

The journey home obviously included a stop in Westfield Stratford City, which is where I found this little fellow – I had to have a photo! 😀

Wenlock

The train journey home asn’t as uneventful as I would have liked, since I had to change trains twice at Crewe and twice again at Chester. Apparently, this was due to a derailment near Shrewsbury. I’m not sure how that would have affected my train and I’m still pretty sure they were using it as an excuse for everything as Arriva often do (down in South Wales, it always seems to be a tree on the line in Barry!) As if this wasn’t enough, a hen party then walked onto the train. They were unable to get seats together and felt the need to shout to each other from one end of the carriage to the other – I quickly got out my iPod and drowned out their drunken conversations!

After an early start, I finally arrived home at 11:30. I normally wouldn’t be too happy about such long days but since this is for the Olympics I think I’ll forgive them! I have two more of these to look forward to… yay!