Games Maker Uniform Collection- purple sportswear is SO in this summer…

With the Olympic Torch Relay recently passing through Cardiff, and my year-long university course coming to an end this week, it suddenly feels like the London games are looming fast.

With just over 40 days to the opening ceremony, and only slightly longer before I head to London to start working at Horse Guards Parade for the beach volleyball competition, I was back in the capital again earlier this week to collect my Games Maker accreditation and uniform.

All volunteers working at the Games receive a full uniform for their shifts, as well as the formal identification needed to access all the crazy behind-the-scenes bits where we all the magic happens.

A lot of thought must have gone into decorating the inside of the UDAC. who doesn’t love umbrella facts?

After two previous journeys to London for my orientation and training, and with one more still to come at the venue itself, I can’t say I was looking forward to taking myself all the way back down there just to pick up some clothes, but in fact the day went pretty smoothly. After arriving at Paddington I had to make my way across to the East End to UDAC, the temporary distribution centre dealing with all the Olympic accreditation. With over 70,000 volunteers enlisted for the Olympic and Paralympic Games the scale of the operation only really hit once I was there, inside the vast warehouse where teams of volunteers were on hand to give out the jackets, shirts, trousers, socks hats, umbrellas and backpacks assigned for each volunteer.

The uniform got a mixed response when I got home and showed it off to my always-tactful housemates, with comments ranging from “Umm, it looks a bit McDonaldsish”, to “oh dear God Adam, what have they done to you!?”

That said however, I was pleasantly surprised by it all. When the whole point is to be visible a garish colour scheme is probably to be expected, and while I’m still not crazy about the poppy and purple design, the quality is certainly high. All the gear is made by Adidas, and it definitely feels like a lot of care has gone into creating something versatile enough to be worn by anyone, indoors or out, and in all the weather expected for a British summertime, right down to the limited edition and highly sought after (or so we’re told) Games Maker trainers.

The most exclusive shoes I will ever own.

While I wasn’t at the UDAC for long, it was great to meet other volunteers, and get a real sense of the excitement building ahead of the games kicking off. After months of training and build-up, and with one final preparation session to go, it now finally feels like I’m ready to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well if you looked like this wouldn’t you?…

This was actually one of the less embarrassing photographs taken.

 

‘Did you know the Olympic Flame was in Cardiff today?’ ‘Oh relay? That’s exciting…’

That’s right, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t help but have noticed the Olympic Flame has come to Cardiff.

 

On day five of the flame’s 70-day route across the British Isles it left my West Midlands home town of Worcester on Friday morning and made its way into Wales, passing through Abergavenny, Pontypool and Newport, before arriving in Cardiff at 5.30pm. The flame was unloaded in St Mellons in the west of the city and carried down the Newport Road to the city centre, where it was escorted past Cardiff castle, taken around the Millennium stadium by Welsh rugby captain Sam Warburton, and delivered to Coopers Field for a celebratory concert.

 

Spectators outside Cardiff Castle

 

I had watched the torch arrive in Worcester on Thursday via the BBC’s Torchcam online stream, and was pleasantly surprised to see such an impressive turnout, with the city centre streets lined with eager spectators. Having spoken to a few people who witnessed the scenes first-hand the atmosphere seems to have been excellent, with children playing in the streets and a ‘festival-like’ mood taking over. There were even people waiting to wave it off again at 8am Friday morning, when it left Worcester down streets just yards from my home.

 

The Flame approaches Worcester County Cricket Club. (Picture courtesy of Diane Care)

 

I was then in Cardiff to see it arrive, and witnessed the whole city centre shut down in preparation. With the prospect of a Friday afternoon party on the hottest day of the year the people of Cardiff had turned out in force to welcome the flame, as the streets around Kingsway and Castle Street thronged in anticipation.

 

Police patrol Cardiff ahead of the Torch’s arrival

 

With controversies already raging about the security of the London games and the lengths taken in the name of counter-terrorism it was impossible to miss the high police presence. Police vans swept the streets with sirens blazing, officers on bikes, horseback and foot covered every inch of the torch’s route, and the South and East Wales Air Support Helicopter patrolled the skies above us.

 

Even more pervasive was the corporate influence. The three designated sponsors of the torch relay were clearly making sure to get their money’s worth, each with a fully-manned float leading the Torch, and uniformed employees of all three sponsors dispatched to entertain the waiting crowds. ‘Limited Edition’ bottles of carbonated drink were given out for free, as stilt-walkers in costumes advertising a national bank entertained the crowds.

 

‘Woo, it’s the Olympics! Now does anyone need a mortgage?’ (pic by Diane Care)

 

The flame itself passed by quickly, as it headed into Bute Park for the evening’s concert. Tickets to enter the park were available to anyone who had registered in advance, but judging by the number being given away free take-up must have been low. A friend was handed 40 to distribute as she wanted, and several stewards were giving them out before the flame arrived. (All clearly identified by their bright red uniforms, covered of course in the logo of everyone’s favourite American soft drinks conglomerate).

 

Emeli Sandé at Coopers Field on the big screen outside Cardiff Town Hall. (I’ve never heard of her either, but apparently she was quite good…)

 

If I sound overly-cynical of this I apologise, but this sense of unease has characterised the build-up to the Games for me. The Olympics has always been a heavily stage-managed affair, with involvement at every level from multi-national corporations, but it was still strange to see it in action for myself.

 

On such a gorgeous afternoon the vibe around Cardiff was always going to be a good one, but the whole thing still felt somewhat forced. The Torch Relay is essentially a manufactured, artificial celebration – there’s no real point to it beyond drumming up anticipation for the summer’s events and drawing attention away from London to the rest of the UK – but it’s still a ritual I’ve so far found myself enjoying.

 

The Flame arrives at Cardiff Castle

 

Worcester certainly looked impressive as people lined its streets to welcome the Olympic circus into town, and despite the attention garnered by celebrity torch bearers like Sam Warburton or Matt Smith (who carried it through Cardiff Bay on Saturday morning), the focus given to the stories of the ordinary people nominated to carry the flame is always endearing.

 

I suppose to me the Olympic Games have always been first and foremost a great sporting occasion, with all the pomp and razzmatazz which follows it a necessary, and occasionally distracting sideshow. I’m definitely still excited about working at Horse Guards Parade in August, and for the chance to experience the Games themselves firsthand, but I am wary of the sense of compulsory enjoyment which only seems to be increasing as they draw nearer.

 

 

 

 

I guess you just can’t please everyone…

Olympic hopefuls take to the white water in Cardiff

K1 kayaking in action at Cardiff International White Water

This post first appeared on The Cardiffian, on March 27.

The International Sports Village in Cardiff Bay is well-known as the home of many sports in Cardiff. The Big Blue Tent of the Cardiff Bay Ice Arena has been home to Cardiff Devils Ice Hockey Club since 2006, while Cardiff International Pool features a 10-lane competition pool and space for over 1,000 spectators.

Both developments dwarf the skyline of the Bay, standing out for miles amid the lavish apartment blocks and gleaming glass skyscrapers which have sprung up along the waterside in recent years.

Less well known, but equally as impressive, is Cardiff International White Water – a state-of-the-art artificial white water canoeing circuit. It opened in 2010, and was the location for the British Canoe Union’s recent Premier Slalom event, which took place on March 24.

Saturday’s action saw the first leg of the three-part junior selection event for the British national team, where promising teenagers competed for the chance to represent their country. This was followed by a Premier Slalom meet, where elite athletes from the top division of British canoeing took to the water to try to qualify for the chance to represent Team GB in this summer’s London Olympics.

Two of Britain’s brightest medal hopes were both in action in Cardiff. David Florence, who won silver in the C1 slalom in Beijing in 2008 was competing in the C1 and C2 category, in which he races with partner Richard Hounslow.

David Florence at GBR Team Selection 2011 at Lee Valley White Water Centre (pic via david.ian.roberts)

Speaking of the Cardiff course, Florence said: “It’s a great venue, I really enjoy paddling there.

“It’s a lot smaller than Lee Valley, but it’s got the feel of a much bigger course, with a lot of good drops and rapids.

“The standard of competition in Cardiff was high, with top-flight premier athletes from all over the country competing for the chance of a coveted place in the Olympic squad.

“Hounslow, who races in the K1 as well as C2 with Florence, said: “At the moment the main focus is on selection, which is in three weeks’ time, but we still need to get there first. The race in Cardiff was my last preparation race.

“All the top people in the country were at the race in Cardiff this week so all the people who will be competing for Britain were there.

“Realistically you’re looking at only two or three categories that are in for a chance. If all things go to plan it is only between two or three people in each.”

Saturday’s event is also preparation for CIWW itself, which will host the first leg of the International Canoe Federation’s Canoe Slalom World Cup on June 8-10.

The World Cup takes place over a series of five races spread across different slalom courses around the world. The first heat takes place in Cardiff, before the action moves on to France, Spain, and the Czech Republic, before the final leg in Slovakia at the end of August.

CIWW is also open to the public, who can experience the sport themselves, or try a range of other white water activities, including rafting and river boarding – riding the rapids face down on a flat body board.

Many people in the sport are hoping the impact of the London Olympics will inspire a greater uptake in canoe slalom, and Richard is hopeful Cardiff will see the benefits of any Olympic success.

“Every four years at the Olympics the TV ratings are very good. It’s often up there in the top five along with the 100 metres, but outside of the Olympic years we get nothing. After this Olympics it will be really interesting to see what happens,” he said.

“Hopefully in the country the event will help the sport pick up a little bit.

“It would not only help the course in London but it will help the course in Cardiff as well, as people see the events taking place and think “I’d like to try that”, and of course as athletes we help by winning medals!

C2 canoeing in action

Canoe Slalom: The Basics

There are two distinct categories of canoeing: sprint, where athletes race in a straight line on smooth water, and slalom, which sees individual competitors complete a white water course.

Slalom courses require athletes to negotiate through a series of hanging gates, some of which must be crossed against the current.

Time penalties are applied for any gates which are missed, or if a competitor makes contact with a gate as they pass through it.

There are five distinct divisions in British canoe slalom, ranging from division four, to the premier league.
There is an important distinction between a canoe and a kayak. Canoes are knelt in, and steered with a single-bladed paddle, while kayak racers sit in their craft, and control it with a longer, double-bladed paddle.

Kayaks are always single-person crafts, but canoes can be doubled, where teams of two race a much larger craft with a single paddle each.

Single canoeing is known as C1, doubles are C2, and kayaks referred to as K1 in the sporting classification.

Men and women compete separately in C1 and K1 classes, but can race with and against each other in the C2.

Canoe slalom has been an Olympic sport for 20 years, and will take place this summer at a brand-new purpose-built course at Lee Valley, in Hertfordshire.

Following the flame: Torch relay route through Cardiff announced

The Olympic Flame relay is one of the most important aspects of the London 2012 Olympics.

Despite venues spread across the country, with several events taking place outside of London, for the vast majority of people in the UK the 70-day torch relay is the only chance to directly witness the festivities taking place here.

The locations and sites the torch will be visiting were announced last year, but today the exact route was revealed, showing street-by-street details of the journey the flame will take as it travels the length and breadth of the UK.

The torch relay is due to pass through Cardiff on May 25-26. It will be taken from Worcester into Wales, and is due to arrive in Cardiff at 5.30. It will then be paraded down Newport Road and into the city centre, where it will visit Cardiff Castle, travel round the Millennium Stadium and cross the Taff, before stopping for a free concert in Bute Park.

On May 26 it will start in the Bay at 6.30 and be carried onto Penarth Road, where it will then start the journey to Swansea.

As well as some celebrities and athletes, most of the torch carriers will be local people, who were nominated by friends and family, and will each carry the flame along a section of the route. A full list of runner for the Cardiff leg is available here.


You can also view the entire route in and out of Cardiff the flame will take on the map below.

My Role: volleyball’s not a bad job if you can get it…

Whenever I tell people I’m going to be working at the London Olympics they always, without fail respond in the same two ways. Firstly, there’s a sly, knowing look I get when I say I’ll be based at the site of the beach volleyball, as if I had any say in the venue I was allocated, (honestly, it was luck of the draw!) and then people want to know what it is I’m actually going to be doing there.

For a long time I’ve been unable to answer this question – despite knowing I was assigned to something called the ‘service and protocol team’ I’ve never actually been clear on what this really means. It was only at my latest training session, which saw other volunteers in the same team assembled for the day in Hackney that I had the specifics of my role spelled out to me, and it became clear just what I had let myself in for.

Essentially my role boils down to dealing with the ‘Olympic Family’ – the collection of delegates, bigwigs and assorted VIPs who get unlimited free access to all events, and spend their time at the Games swanning around from one reception to another, filling up on complimentary food and drink as they go. As a protocol team member I’ll be responsible for checking their accreditation on their way in, to make sure they’re important enough to get into the exclusive lounge and reserved seating dedicated to them at each arena. I’ll also spend time manning their information desk, providing updates and results from across the Olympic park, and coordinating their chauffeur-driven fleet of BMWs.

I’m probably being a little unfair on the people who make up the ‘family’ here – the Olympics take years of hard work to come together and represent a vast international effort to stage – so it’s only right those responsible for bringing them to London are rewarded when the Games actually start, and a separate area for the thousands of delegates from every participating nation is probably the best way to ensure they get to see the action. The areas I’ll be working in will also be used by any visiting VIPs, so a dedicated team of specialist Games Makers working there makes sense. At my training session there was a great deal of discussion over what to do if Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin come to town and fancy catching some Olympic volleyball, which is an unlikely, but entirely plausible possibility.

Working where I am means I’ll be spending some time actually in the stands with the best seats in the house, so will actually get to see some of the action myself, rather than being locked away in a back office out of sight. Being at a competition venue means I’ll also get to sample the atmosphere around the Games, so as roles go it could definitely have been a lot worse.

That said however, I still can’t help feel a little disappointed I won’t be spending any time with the real fans, who have had to pay to come and experience the excitement of London 2012. Perhaps the suits I’ll be working with will have all the passion of the lucky punters who succeeded with the ticket ballot, but I can’t help but think the best place to be would be among the ‘normal’ seats, meeting people from all over the country and the world who have travelled to London to be part of this amazing spectacle.

I suppose I’m being selfish worrying about it anyway – I’m incredibly lucky to be at the Games at all, and regardless of my position it’s going to be a great experience to be there. No volunteers get to decide where they’re going to be based, and being at Horse Guards Parade, at a showcase venue in the very heart of central London is a fantastic opportunity, regardless of what I’m going to be doing there.

I still can’t wait to get down there, and regardless of the things I’m doing, or the people I’m dealing with, I know I’m going to do my best to help make London 2012 the best Olympics yet.

Are you going to be working at the Games as well? I’d love to hear where you’re going to be, and what you’re looking forward to. Is anyone else out there going to be at Horse Guards Parade?

 

The USA's April Ross, at the warm-up Beach Volleyball event at Horse Guards Parade. Pic via Sum_of_Marc (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sumofmarc/)

Games Maker Training pt 2: Role Specific Training

So after last week’s orientation session I found myself once again boarding the train to Paddington this weekend for the next leg of my Games Maker training- a day-long session designed to explain exactly what it is I’ll be doing as a volunteer within the ‘Venue Protocol Team’.

 

Unlike the orientation, which at 3pm on a Saturday I could attend and return from in a day, this longer session would take a lot more preparation. Luckily a friend who lives in Haringey had agreed to put me up for the Saturday night, which meant I could head down the day before and still make it to Hackney for the 9.30am start. I ran down to Cardiff Central station as soon as the England v Wales 6 Nations match had finished, dodging the crowds of rambunctious Welsh fans to make it onto the 6.25pm train without giving myself away as a hugely-disappointed Englishman in their midst.

 

After some issues navigating the London public transport network, and an unexpected detour to Liverpool St Station, I was able to make it to my base for the night, and then to the conference centre where the training was taking place the next morning. I signed in, collected my name badge and made my way to the Barcelona room. (All the main rooms in the building had been named after former host cities. Lunch was held in Sydney).

 

That was where I then spent the rest of the day. Despite some interactive quizzes and group discussions the vast majority of the day was spent listening to various presentations and lectures- with lots of information to take in, and a rack of new acronyms to learn. (As well as orientation’s I DO ACT, I’m now coping with the O/PF, VPTMs, LSTMs and the difference between O, F, and H accreditations. Simple!) By the time the day was over I was well and truly exhausted with the sheer bulk of information I’d been given, and was desperate to get back to Paddington for my 3hr train journey back home.

 

I finally got back through my front door just before 10pm- a 28hr round-trip for a 7½hr day’s work.

 

Despite the stresses of the day it was still hugely useful. To this point I haven’t really known what my eventual role would entail, something which I’m now a lot clearer on. There’s still more training to come, with ‘Venue-Specific Training’ up next, although I must admit I don’t like the idea of returning to London just to collect my uniform- something we were told would have to happen in person. It’s a huge inconvenience for me to get to the capital, and I’m far from sold on the idea of returning, picking up my assigned things and heading straight back to Wales again, and I’m sure I can’t be the one travelling farthest.

 

What was best about the day though was undoubtedly the chance to meet other Games Makers, including some doing who’ll be working alongside me at the beach volleyball. Everyone there had a wide range of previous experience, and different reasons for volunteering and expectations for the games, but everyone was excited, and eager to get started.

 

With every training session and trip to London I take the Games feel closer than ever. My feelings on my specific role are somewhat divided, and I’ll be blogging about them again soon, but even though there’s still a lot more to do- especially given the venue I’ll be working at doesn’t even exist yet- now I know what I’m actually doing when the Games start it all suddenly feels much more real.

Hello Wembley! Games Maker Orientation Training

Training is inevitably a huge part of any Olympian’s life, with years of dedication, hard work and sacrifice put in ahead of the actual games starting.

 

Now I’m not necessarily saying the preparation put in by the 70,000 volunteer Games Makers is as difficult as the hours of early starts and gruelling fitness regimes faced by the world’s elite athletes, but there’s still quite a bit of legwork we all

Dame Tanni Gray-Thompson addresses the assembled Games Makers at Wembley Arena

need to put in as well.

 

It was good then, to finally get my training underway yesterday with my orientation session at Wembley Arena; a two and a half hour presentation covering all the build-up to my role this summer at the Olympic Beach Volleyball.

 

Hosted by John Inverdale and featuring Tanni Grey-Thompson, Steph Cook and the seemingly-obligatory video message from Eddie Izzard, the session ran through all the expectations and responsibilities of London 2012 Games Makers, and set out everything that happens between now and the start of the games.

 

We were asked specifically not to reveal the content of the presentation, so I won’t go into too much detail here (presumably there are still further sessions for others to come), but I can say it was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. I hadn’t had high hopes for this first training event, and was definitely unimpressed at the thought of travelling all the way to London for what was essentially a PR presentation. Despite my misgivings however, it was well worth the trip, and I came away feeling a lot more enthusiastic about my role.

 

There was a definite corporate atmosphere surrounding the event, with the head of the Olympic Park’s four McDonald’s outlets taking part in a round-table discussion, and no opportunity missed to remind us Cadbury’s are the Games’ ‘Official Treat Provider’. Big companies’ involvement in the Olympics is nothing new, and this was probably always to be expected, but at times things did feel a little like some sort of group indoctrination, with company logos emblazoned on every available surface.

 

I also came back with a lot of extra work to get through- my newly-assigned Games Maker ‘Workbook’ is stocked full of future reading material, including the six ‘hosting actions’ which represent the values which Games Makers strive towards. Although slightly jargon-heavy, it’s clear that a lot of time has gone into drawing up this programme, and a great deal of effort has been made to ensure that the volunteers are as efficient as they can be.

Overall then it was a good day; I’m certainly feeling a lot more excited about the Games than I was before, and it was great to meet and talk to other volunteers. The fact that an entire day was taken up with such a short session was largely unavoidable given it was all happening in London, and spending four hours on a train to get there and back was not as unpleasant as it could have been.

 

 

The next step is my venue-specific training, which is due to take place shortly, and should see the specifics of my role fully explained. I’m definitely looking forward to it, and now can’t wait to get down there in the summer for it all to kick off.

The official Games Maker uniform- complete with exclusive, can't-get-'em-anywhere-else 'Games Maker Trainers'