Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Interview with an Olympic Gamesmaker

Alongside all of the judges, technicians, security, armed forces and other paid professionals, the London Olympics 2012 has been staffed by around 70,000 volunteers.  These Gamesmakers, as they are known, have been undertaking all sorts of roles from backroom activities like monitoring communications and looking after the village, through ticketing duties and driving people in the mobility buggies, right the way to leading in the teams of athletes and setting up the podiums for the medal ceremonies.

All of those that we came across were cheerful, friendly and helpful. Whether they were directing us with a pink foam pointy finger, joking through their megaphone or simply available to be asked for help, they did doing an amazing job of helping the spectators and competitors to have a fantastic games, and from the ones I have spoken to, they were enjoying themselves too.
I know a few people who signed up as volunteers, and a former work colleague of mine called Jon Shepherd, agreed to tell you about his experience as a Gamesmaker and share a few of his photos.
Why did you decide to volunteer?
I just wanted to be involved somehow in what was always going to be such a huge national and international event. I love London and wanted to be part of a huge one off, once in a lifetime event in my home city. I’ve participated in or watched quite a few big events like marathons for example, so I knew how exciting they were to be part of, and I wanted to be part of that excitement. Also, I think I just wanted to challenge myself a bit. I wanted something new and different to get involved in and excited about. It would have been so much easier to do nothing, but I was fed up doing nothing.
When did you apply and what was the process like?
It was long and drawn out! I first applied back in 2010. The application was all online, nothing complicated, you had to say what your interests were, why you wanted to volunteer etc. Then in February 2011 I think, I received an email saying I was being considered for a role with the road cycling team (not actually as a cyclist obviously, but for a brief moment I was very excited!) and inviting me to attend a selection event at the ExCel. It was just a 1:1 interview, but it caught me by surprise a bit because they asked me behavioural questions (tell me about a time you’ve done so and so etc). I thought it would all be about my cycling interests! But no – they understandably wanted to figure out whether people could work as part of a team, what skill I had etc. I thought I’d messed it up because I didn’t hear anything for months and months, while a few colleagues who’d also applied had heard back within quite a short period of time. Then in November 2011 I got an email saying I was in!
So you knew you were in, but when did you find out what you'd be doing?
I knew from the confirmation email that I’d be involved in the cycling somehow. It just said I’d be involved in the road cycling events (road race and time trial) in the field of play, as a pedestrian crossing point marshal. No other details but having been to events like marathons etc, I could pretty much figure out what that meant.
What training did you have to do?
The training was broken down into orientation training and role specific training. Orientation training was basically about what was expected of us as a games maker. About how important we were to the success of the games, to everyone’s enjoyment of it (athletes and spectators), how we were expected to conduct ourselves and so on. The organisers held a number of orientation events at Wembley Arena, and there were 10,000 of us at each one. Mine was in early 2012. It was an impressive event really. The one I went to was hosted by John Inverdale the sports commentator who actually did a lot of the Olympics. He brought on a lot of important people, like John Regis the former British Olympic runner, Olympic organisers and officials etc, to tell us how big a deal this all was and how important we were. There was a bit of American style rah rah rah but not too much thankfully as none of us were buying into that as it just not our way! I and the other games makers I spoke to all came away feeling very excited and with a sense of worth, and there was a real feeling of anticipation building for what was clearly going to be a very big deal.
The role specific training was a little more casual. A week before the Olympics started I and everyone else involved in the cycling went along to Sandown Park racecourse for half a day. There, we found out exactly where on the course we would be, more or less, and we were given a very brief explanation of how to enable people to cross the road. Really. Not even a demonstration!  I’m not knocking it, it would have been very difficult to give us meaningful hands on training of what our role entailed given that the course varied so much and there were so many of us (several hundred). We also received some genuinely very useful information about what would happen on the day, what to expect, what other official vehicles would be on the course and when etc etc. I’ve probably made it sound a bit disorganised (and maybe it seemed like it at the time) but in reality it was perfectly adequate and like with so many roles, we did a lot of the real learning on the job. It was all common sense really.
What do you think of the uniform and will you be keeping it?
When I first saw a picture of it, it’s fair to say that OMFG was pretty much my first reaction. I first saw it in the flesh at my orientation training, and it began to grow on me a bit then. As we got closer to the beginning of the Olympics, I began to see a few people wearing it at training events or even out in the street, and as the anticipation began to build for the event as a whole I actually began to look forward to putting it on, wearing it in public and being seen. Strange! The trainers are the best bit and are the only things I’ll wear again (apart from maybe the trousers to do DIY in). I’ll definitely keep it all though. Seems a shame to get rid of it as I’ve got some very happy memories. I’ve seen a lot of the uniforms appearing on eBay and some of it goes for quite a lot of money (like the Swatch watches for example), but I’d prefer to keep mine.
How did the public treat you?
Very well. They saw us as a point of contact, a valuable source of info – I guess they must have thought we knew what we were doing! Everyone was very friendly and grateful. I even got a cup of tea, a cup cake and some sausages off a barbeque! Talking to the spectators was probably the most enjoyable aspect of the role. I even had people stopping me in the street to ask me questions miles away from the race venue as I was walking to the meet points, just because I was wearing the uniform.
And how did the organisers treat you?
Bradley Wiggins en route to a gold medal
Also very well. They were clearly very grateful to us, judging by the messages of thanks we kept receiving and by the very nice mentions we got in the various speeches in the closing ceremony. We got a few gifts and freebies, the uniform for example, an oyster card for free travel in London, tickets to a dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony, badges, a commemorative baton. They couldn’t have done much more, apart from maybe a free ticket to something!!
Did you get to see any of the events or meet competitors?
I couldn’t have got any closer to the cycling road races and times trials so that was fantastic. I didn’t meet any of the cyclists, but there were some Japanese and Chinese athletes based near Teddington where my point on the course was, and as we were setting up early that first weekend, many of them came jogging past as part of their training. I said hello, wished them luck etc and they all smiled, said thank you, which was really nice. As a spectator I saw the men’s marathon and managed to get a ticket to some weightlifting, which was more exciting than I expected!
What did you enjoy?
The friendliness and appreciation of the people who came to watch the events we were marshalling. They were there because they wanted to be, were enthusiastic and very excited about it, and were grateful when we were able to answer their questions, and give them information which helped them understand what was going on. I didn’t get any grief even though I had to keep asking people to get off the course, get back on the pavement etc. It made me feel important, valued and useful! Also the camaraderie of the other volunteers. I was lucky enough to work with the same people all the time so we formed a good team and a good bond. We had a laugh and did a good job at the same time.
Was there anything you didn’t like?
Nothing. The only thing I didn’t like was that I was unable to do more!
What was your proudest moment?
After our first day, after the men’s road race had gone through our section, all the volunteers on my part of the course gathered together for a debrief. Our meeting point happened to be outside a pub on the course route. We’d been standing there for just a few minutes when the entire pub came out and gave us a round of applause. Amazing and very unexpected. Everyone was so smiley and happy!
And the funniest?
Myself and a fellow volunteer were asked by our team leader to go help out on another busier part of the course just before the men’s road race was due to start, so we had to jog down along the closed course route surrounded by loads of spectators on either side. They all started clapping and cheering in fun as we ran past, and we couldn’t help but laugh (and feel very proud of ourselves at the same time!)
And what was the best thing about the experience?
In terms of the actual volunteering I did, I’d say the time trial day. It was a longer day, and on that particular day the organisation was not so good, things were getting delayed and nobody seemed to be taking any responsibility. So myself and two others decided to take the initiative and get ourselves sorted. We declared ourselves a little team, took the details of where on the course we had to be, got our gear together and headed off. We were set up and in position before the team leader managed to work out what he and everyone else was supposed to be doing. We probably should have waited but we knew we had an important job to do and we were getting a little concerned about delays, so we just got on with it. We had a very good day. Plus it was the day on which Bradley Wiggins won his gold, and in a very small way, we felt we’d helped!

Opening ceremony rehearsal
Otherwise, I’d say going to the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony. It felt like a real privilege to get to see it, to be in the stadium and the Olympic park, and it was an incredible spectacle. It was great on TV but to be there in person (and we saw pretty much all of the ceremony, only a couple of things were kept secret) was stunning. Got quite emotional!
And finally Jon, would you recommend others volunteering at their home games?
Absolutely. It can be a bit of a lottery what you get asked to do, and I was very lucky, but I had an amazing time, met some great people, saw and was involved in some great things, and feel very proud to have contributed to such a huge and successful global event. A truly once in a lifetime opportunity and I have no regrets whatsoever.
Thanks Jon, and well done to you and all of your fellow Gamesmakers.

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