Olympic Games Making

The Olympic Stadium and Orbit
The Olympic Stadium and Orbit
The spectators' entrance to ExCeL
The spectators’ entrance to ExCeL, where I was working

Right from day one, it was clear the London 2012 Olympics would be something special. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, for which I was privileged enough to see the first technical rehearsal, was a showcase of British culture and history. It made me truly proud to be British, I think for the first time in my life. I laughed and cried so many times during the ceremony, and spent a lot of my time watching it thinking “Oh my God, I’ll be there tomorrow. I’m actually going to be part of this!” and then laughing or crying again. I stayed up right to the bitter end, and I’m so glad I did, because the idea for the cauldron and the way it was lit were truly ingenious, and clear embodiments of the Olympic spirit and the motto of London 2012: “Inspire a Generation”

'James Bond' and the Union Flag
‘James Bond’ and the Union Flag at the technical rehearsal

My first-hand experience of the Games began early the next morning, when I had a seven-hour coach journey from Newcastle to London. Arriving in the centre at 3pm, we spent an hour being diverted and sent all over South Kensington because of the men’s cycle road race. I was worried the problems on the roads would be a major feature of the Games, but the transport network seemed to be one of the most successful aspects of the whole Games. I managed to make it from where the bus dumped us in South Kensington at 4pm to Leicester Square at 5pm just in time for the matinee showing of the Reduced Shakespeare Company‘s Complete World of Sports Abridged. It was a great way to ease into the Games, and a perfect way to start my ‘holiday’.

The next morning I put on my full uniform ready for my first shift. Chia, who I was staying with, posted a few photos of me on Twitter and facebook, and the messages of support I got were heartwarming. I arrived five minutes before the shift, a little panicky because our pre-shift briefing was already happening, but it turned out there was nothing to worry about as all of my colleagues, and Patrick, our manager, were friendly, helpful and ready to explain everything I’d missed.

Sandy Millin working as a Games Maker at London 2012

Half of my team after my last shift (the other half worked the next day)
Half of my team after my last shift (the other half worked the next day) – Patrick is second from left

I won’t share the exact details of my job at the moment, but I was lucky enough to see about fourteen hours of weightlifting over the eight days I was working, during which time I learnt all about the ins and outs of this fascinating and dramatic sport. During that time I saw Olympic records, a world record, four medal ceremonies and a dislocated elbow, with the whole gamut of emotions covered in the arena. The support for all of the lifters, regardless of their nationality, was universal, with constant waves of tension and release in emotion and cheering throughout the day. I was amazed that the crowds still found something extra for Peter Kirkbride, the only British lifter I saw, since they had always seemed to be at fever pitch for everyone else already, but they managed it, and I was privileged enough to be there at the time. I also saw more Kazakh flags being waved than I had seen in my whole life put together, with four of their golds coming from weightlifting. I watched Azerbaijan get their first ever weightlifting medal, a bronze, on my first day. And I saw a group of hyperactive Thai fans in their national costume, complete with a horse headdress, accompanied by drums and bells to make sure everyone knew they were there. It truly was sport at its best.

Weightlifting - an Egyptian lifter
Weightlifting – an Egyptian lifter

When I wasn’t working, I was watching. I cried when Helen Glover and Heather Stanning got Team GB’s first gold, and I cried again when I heard everyone singing the national anthem at Eton Dorney a few minutes later. On my day off I went to Hyde Park with another Games Maker from my team, Eloise, and watched Gemma Gibbons get a silver in the women’s judo -78kg. We then experienced an emotional rollercoaster of an afternoon watching cycling, with Team GB world records, a disqualification, and the crowning glory of the men’s sprint team getting another gold. As they crossed the line, red, white and blue streamers were released from around the screen and we all cheered together. We then sang ‘God Save the Queen’ together in one of the most emotional moments of my time at the Games.

Streamers released at Hyde Park as Chris Hoy crosses the line to win gold for Team GB's men's pursuit team
Streamers released at Hyde Park as Chris Hoy crosses the line to win gold for Team GB’s men’s pursuit team

I shouted at the TV to make the rowers go faster, watching them win two golds and a silver in consecutive races; I willed Rebecca Adlington to swim faster and then was really happy when her post-800m speech showed how proud she was of her bronze medal; I saw the last three games of Murray’s match against Federer and was ecstatically happy when he won, turning round his Wimbledon final disappointment and proving he can win major tournaments when the pressure is on. I watched Ed Clancy win one of his omnium races during one of my breaks, with everyone in the ExCeL workforce break area (about 300 people) cheering him on, and applauding him as he crossed the line first. I watched Bolt’s 100m victory on a Spanish guy’s laptop on the boulevard which runs the 500m+ length of ExCeL. I saw Jessica Ennis finish the 800m, and win the heptathlon, followed by Mo Farah winning the 10,000m with a group of my colleagues after our shift finished. I watched Farah win the 5,000m one week later during a meal with my mum and my best friend. Later we saw pure unadulterated joy on Tom Daley’s face when he realised he had got a bronze in the diving. I watched the end of the women’s triathlon at home, alone, and saw one of the most amazing photo finishes I have ever seen in any sport, after they had been competing for two hours. At ExCeL, I saw live judo, boxing and fencing, including the very close men’s team foil final, won by Italy in the final match, from a total of nine matches. I even went to an event as a fully-paid up spectator with my mum, watching the free routines at the synchronised swimming at the Aquatics Centre, followed by the medal ceremony, with the Russians taking gold.

Judo - a women's gold medal match
Judo – a women’s gold medal match
Judo - men's team foil gold medal match
Fencing – men’s team foil gold medal match
Boxing - an Algerian v. a Japanese fighter
Boxing – an Algerian v. a Japanese fighter
Synchronised swimming - the winning Russian team during their free routine
Synchronised swimming – the winning Russian team during their free routine

Wearing the Games Maker uniform turned London into a completely different place. Every time I got on the Tube, I ended up chatting to people, and even missed my stop once when I was talking to a Games Maker working at Earl’s Court at the volleyball. I had a long conversation with a pair of Brazilians from Sao Paolo, worrying about how Rio 2016 will live up to London 2012, and heard from many people that the Games Makers were what made London stand out. At the end of my final shift, we were presented with a relay baton to thank us for our work during the Games. We had our presentation on the weightlifting platform, followed by photos of our team.

Getting my Games Maker relay baton from Patrick
Getting my Games Maker relay baton from Patrick

Many times during my nine days in London, I looked at the Olympic rings and had to tell myself that I really was there. The emotions I’ve experienced during the last two weeks, the excitement, the joy, the tears (both happy and sad), and above everything else, the pride, at being there and at being a witness to Team GB’s greatest performance, to some of the best sport the world has ever seen, and to surely one of the most successful Olympic Games of all time, will stay with me for the rest of my life. And best of all, I have been able to share it, with friends new and old, people I have never met, and a country which is holding its head high.

Eloise and Mat training for Rio
Eloise and Mat training for Rio

But it’s not the end yet, even though the closing ceremony took place last night. In three weeks, I’ll be back again, this time for the Paralympics. I have three more shifts, and Eloise and I have already bought day passes for ExCeL, to revel in the sport all over again. Bring it on!

London 2012 weightlifting platform(all images in this post are my own)

Becoming a London 2012 Games Maker


(all photos in this post are my own)
My name is Sandy Millin. I am an English as a Foreign Language teacher, currently working in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I came back to the UK after three years in Brno in the Czech Republic because I wanted to volunteer at the Olympics. My journey to becoming a Games Maker, as we are officially called, started four years ago.
I was watching the amazing closing ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics with my mum. As soon as it finished I went on the internet to find out how I could be at London 2012, thinking “There is no way the Olympics is coming to my country without me being involved!” I have always loved watching sport, especially live sport, and the atmosphere in London during the Olympics would be too good to miss.
In summer 2010 I started to get emails telling me that the volunteer selection process was about to begin. I sent in my application in September, and waited with baited breath. About 250,000 people applied, so the wait was quite a long one!
In the meantime, I decided that I wanted to come back to the UK for a year so that I could be here in the run-up to the Games. I was lucky enough to get a job at International House Newcastle, and started work there on July 4th 2011. Two weeks before I started, I had to ask for a day off on July 12th because I had got through the first part of the process and was one of the 100,000 people called to interview.

My interview took place in Coventry. I honestly can’t remember anything they asked me, but my answers must have ticked the right boxes because in September I got an email to say I had been accepted as an Olympic volunteer. The next day I got another email, this time offering me a place as a Paralympic Games Maker. I was very excited to hear this, and was proud to have been selected as one of the 70,000 volunteers that will help to make the Games possible.

The next step was my training. First off, we had an introductory session with about 12,000 Games Makers at Wembley Arena, presented by Jonathan Edwards. We saw our uniform for the first time, and were introduced to some of the basics of being a Games Maker, regardless of our role. The was a great buzz in the room. It was the first time I started to really appreciate the scale of the whole undertaking.

Two weeks later, I returned to London for role specific training, this time to learn more about what my job would actually involve. At the moment I can’t really say anything about this, so you will have to wait until after the Paralympics to find out what I have been doing! One thing I can say though is that my experience as an English teacher abroad definitely helped me to get my job.

In the middle of May 2012 things really started to step up. Within three days I got an invitation to collect my uniform and accreditation (which I did a few days later), along with details of my shifts for the Olympics and Paralympics. I also found out that I would be working with weightlifting. I have to admit I was a little disappointed at this, as for as long as I can remember we have watched the summer and winter Olympics in my family, and of all the sports involved, weightlifting was probably the one I was least interested in.

However, this all changed when I went to my venue specific training last weekend. I saw the weightlifting arena for the first time and met some of the people I will be working with. I saw the places that I will work and learnt more about weightlifting, which I now think will be a great sport to learn more about. I also saw large amounts of people in the Games Maker uniform for the first time. I was so proud to think that this time next week I will be one of them. So proud, in fact, that when I told my friends about it later the same day I actually cried!
I would like to share my experience of the Games with everyone. I have already agreed to a Skype chat with Vicky Saumell‘s class in Argentina. If anyone else is interested in connecting, please contact me below. If you would like to use this text as a reading exercise in your classes, please feel free to do so, and if you have any useful activities for it, don’t forget to share them. 🙂 Please remember that I am not allowed to share too many details though.
I would like to thank everyone who has supported me on my journey to becoming a Games Maker. I won’t name names as you know who you are, and I would be sure to forget someone! Without your help, your cars, your offers to put me up, and all the other little things, I would never have been able to take advantage of this great opportunity. I owe you!
As I write this I am on the bus on the way to London, very excited to be one of the lucky winners of a ticket to the technical rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony, which I got after entering a competition for Games Makers. In a few short hours I will be on the Olympic Park, then sitting in the Olympic Stadium, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m sure I won’t be able to tell people about it until after the real ceremony, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise, but I am positive that we all have a lot to look forward to over the next six weeks of the Olympics and Paralympics.
Four days, six hours and ten minutes to go…