Thursday, 13 September 2012

Thanks for Seb....says it all.

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Dear Elizabeth
It’s remarkable to think that just two months ago, we were still waiting for the Games to begin. Since then, we’ve witnessed a fantastic summer of sport, with remarkable performances from the finest athletes in the world, staged in world-class venues in front of millions of passionate spectators.
These have all been possible because of you – our remarkable, inspiring Games Makers.
It’s clear that you have caught the imagination of the public. From the spontaneous ovations at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies to the great celebrations during Monday’s parade, people everywhere have been expressing their thanks for your contribution.
And on behalf of everyone at London 2012, I’d like to add mine. As I said right at the start of the Games Maker selection process, volunteers really do make the difference between a good and a great Games, and you have been fantastic. Whatever your role or venue, you were all so crucial to our whole operation coming together as smoothly as it did.
I hope you will take your passion and generosity of spirit and continue to volunteer whether this is in your own community, at a large sporting event or at local sports club. I wish you all the very best for the future.
Best wishes,
Sebastian Coe, the Chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games
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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The most important is to participate and believe.

...or something along those lines. I am having a hard time finding a title for this one, which is where i try to take stalk of the whole adventures and see what i've learned and what i'm going to do with it all. 

Participating in the Olympics in one shape or form has always always been a dream, and not because i'm athletic but because i believed that it embodied the best of humanity and that the Olympic Spirit truly exists, beyond the doping, the sponsoring, the massive advantage of some countries over the others, the corruption, the scandals and all the rest of the ugly truths.

I'm not religious at all, but the big take-away from these Games, is that it has restored my faith in humanity, i really really believe that i was part of something special and that i saw the best we can do as a group and as  individuals.

It's been said in the media, which makes it less believable and cynics will be cynics forever, but i was there and i know. You can't take that away from me, i' m an educated woman in the 21st century and i rarely try to impose my opinion of the world on anybody, as my opinion is not worth more than anyone else's. But this, this, i know and believe in. I just wish everybody was given the same chance as me to experience it all and see the light shine through all the dark we as humans try to cover the Olympics up with. 

It wasn't perfect, heaven, and harmony but it was a whole lot better than anything out there and that makes it worth it. Long live the Olympics.

The other "big" thought is that i take my hat off to the power of dreams.I'm not someone who wants to change the world or accomplish crazy big things and i only have a couple of things that i 'm really really keen on doing. I've now done one of them and seeing the energy and the drive it gives you showed me that there is really nothing in my way to make my other dreams come true. 
They will happen.

I'll stop here for the moment, and will let time do its magic before i reflect further on how these 3weeks have changed me.

London 2012, I was there.

Team Haiti

Haiti was a small delegation and in the end we had 7 officials and 5 athletes to look after. On the paper, the ratio 4 volunteers for 12 people seems very very reasonable, especially when you know the large delegation like Team GB or the USA only get 12...But small delegations often rhyme with little or no organisation, so the burden and the responsibilities that volunteers take on grow proportionally. Add on in our case delegates who have very different approach to work, status and culture and you can see how suddenly the volunteers have to pull their weight.

Our five athletes were as follows and dear athletes, forgive me if my description doesn't match perfectly! :

- Linouse Desravine : a shy 21year Judoka, born and brought up in Haiti, effectively a IOC Wild Card. Not very worldly and mostly comfortable with the other Haitian, didn t speak English, understood french but was at ease with it. Overall a very sweet person but wildly out of her depth in London. She was eliminated in the first round in her -52kg category by a Mongolese lady who went on to win the Silver Medal. 

- Marlena Wesh : an outgoing 21 year old, born and brought up in the USA by Haitian parents, looked at the Olympics with a certain coolness, convinced that this was not the be all and end all of her career and got through to the semi finals of the 400m. A hard worker, clever lady who kept mostly to herself but comfortable with who she is, really good at dealing  with the Haitian delegates and getting her way ( being a girl helps) without getting political.

- Samyr Laine : Like any athlete in my humble opinion, this guy is a superman and knowing he's done Harvard and Georgiatown just increases my respect   thousandfold. Incredibly friendly and outgoing with a strong tendency to get things done without a fuss but also doesn t take any crap. He's the one who brokered the deal that got all of the Haiti team sponsored by Mizuno.

- Jeffrey Julmis : An outspoken, a little "grande gueule" 110m hurdler, first Olympics, vey disappointed of his performance and i get the feeling that because he doesn t think he has much else going on, he believes his career ahead is looking bleak ( which it is not, duh.) Mood swings all the time but very very friendly and grateful for our help and support, a true socialiser. 

- Moise Joseph : an established and experienced 800m runner, was at Beijing and can put up with a lot of crap until he explodes, didn't do as well as he wished in the Olympics and is therefore looking to new meets in the next weeks to build back up some good performances. Good good person and i wish i could have gotten to know him more, but hey, time flew in a weird way.

It goes without saying that all of these guys have incredible bodies. 


I don t think we spoke and interacted with them enough, as our first instructions were to work for the Chef de Mission and it was only progressively that we learned to work directly with the athletes as this was faster, less fussy and less political...but we lost a week and only really started to "bond" with them in the second week of the Games.

It was enough in any case for them to write a little letter to each of us and get us a gift as well as some of the official Mizuno Haiti gear. Of course i cried reading it and will treasure that in the years.

So to answer my question to myself in the letter i wrote to myself at the beginning of the whole process: athletes are just like everybody else but with this incredible devotion to their body and self discipline, which completely baffles me. As far as i can tell they are mostly driven by their performances and getting better and not a medal, at least for my guys. This might be because they didn t perform all that well at London, but a quick look at the performing history shows they all had the potential to do much better. 

Athletes psychology is a fascinating discipline i'm sure but i'm really no expert at this point, just more baffled than i was before as i discovered they are people just like us, but not quite. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Team (and) mates

At my first training session back in January, we had to write a private letter to ourselves that we would get back after the Games, where we had to describe what we wanted or hoped to get out of the Olympics. Simple but great idea. 

Our letters were handed back to us on Sunday and i had a read through mine and i'm happy to say that most of my objectives and hopes have come true. In particular, i wanted to meet new people and understand more about how athletes work and what drives them. 

Working in a small and very disorganised NOC delegation like Haiti pushed me in 2 ways: first you had to rely strongly on your fellow volunteers and second, we got a lot of contact with the athletes. So here i 'll give you a short over view of my team-mates and the next post will be on the athletes.

So first my team-mates : 

- Harry, British, 25 years old, just finished studying building engineering, learned french and creole in the Caribbean when he was a missionary there for 2 years, dislikes processes and would have put his life down to serve an athlete, not so much the dignitaries, like all of us. 

- Pierre, French from Grenoble  45ish, lives in Leamington Spa, which meant a 2h30 commute every day to come to the Village in Stratford, London, has 2 little daughters and has done all sorts of sports from Gymnastics to teaching Karate now. Doesn t say much in the beginning but get things done and came out his shell.
- Nathalie, XX years old :-), project manager at Apple, lived in Toulouse for a couple of years, one of these people that just doesn t take no for an answer and knows how to set boundaries. Same thing, gets things done.

- Yours Truly. 

We had never met all together before our first day at the Olympic village so we introduced ourselves to each other and to our Chef de Mission Gerald at the same time. Now, i 've never been a freelance or worked in any volunteering organisation in a sustained way, so learning to be part of team in 24hours is really a new thing. I'm used to building a team, devising roles and responsibilities over 6-8 months, so this was a bit of a crash course.

And honestly, from speaking to other NOCs, i think we were very lucky, or very well chosen as a team as our strengths and weaknesses worked well together. 

Harry was supposed to be Team Coordinator, in effect Nathalie and I were much more in that role, but i think that is our nature and work coming in, and all this was very comfortably assumed. The difference with a corporate environment, is that there are no politics to be played, nothing to justify or show off, no boss to have to report to. You are entirely autonomous as a group and as a group you fix your agenda and priorities. It s incredibly nice and truly part of the Olympic Spirit i think.

As you will have guessed from some of my articles, all was not smooth and easy and there was a ton of information to process so relying on these guys to have your back and find a solution was so so incredibly good.

The Best part i think of the whole experience is the daily debrief where we would share and pass on tasks and anecdotes...much laughter, head shaking  and " No he didnt!!!? oh yes he did!!"

They were part and package of my whole experience, so thank you guys.<3 font="font">

Will we stay in touch? I don t know to be fair, whilst they are all great people, we have our own life and what brought us together is now over and there is nothing worse than a contrived relationship where all you do is speak about the good old times you have in common. But i would like to stay in touch, as they are really good people. I think at this point i've got a fair chance with Nathalie, and for the guys, well, we will see!

Time and Life will tell

Monday, 13 August 2012

Welcome to the Olympic Village

I know the Village is no longer a mystery for many but i thought i could share some of the pictures i took during my time there.

Now, the Village was meant to be an inner sanctum for athletes, so you will note that in contrast to venues and the rest of London, it all looks very peaceful and semi deserted. I do have pictures of athletes up close and personal but as i want to respect their intimacy and we were asked not to pester athletes, you'll see mostly impersonal views.

And no, contrary to what British media alleged, it was not a sex fest. Yes, there are plenty of couples and liaisons happening during the Games but :
- Athletes most often share their rooms with a colleague and sleep in single beds.
- Athletes are professionals and like most people, avoid sleeping around on the job.

So sorry to disappoint on that, no fun gossip coming your way here.

An Accreditation to gloat about

Back when i got into this whole project i understood that i had been given quite a special role ( only 2500 of us out of the 70000 volunteers work directly with the athletes) and that my accreditation was quite powerful. 

This is the post where i gloat and show off. Be prepared and indulgent.

The power of the accreditation is mostly in the "ALL". This means i could go to ALL Olympic Venues with the same access rights as a spectator. No behind the scenes, warm up zones or press centers, but hey i was living with ALL the athletes in the Village, so i got plenty of behind the scenes and my day job is about working with press, so i'm not fussed.

Now, officially, we could go only to venues while we were on shift and if our delegation needed us there...but there are no specific checks on this.


So i was the first of my team to discover the loophole and i must say the first time i went to the Basketball Arena, i wasn t very confident, but once that worked like a dream, there was no holding me back. To alleviate my sense of guilt though, i made a point of talking to a volunteer at the site explaining honestly why i was there for free and helping out as i could on the site, mostly with spectator management. and to be fair that was really nice, because i got a sense of what the Olympics meant for spectators and other groups of volunteers and not just Athletes and team officials. Not trying to justify myself here though, ( well maybe a bit!!), but saying i tried to make the free perk into something of value to LOCOG (ok, stopping here, completely justifying myself!!)

Thus i saw (...helped at :-)) :

- 5 nights at the Olympic Stadium including Super Saturday and its magic hour for Britain ( Ennis, Rutherford and Mo Farah), the 100m evening and the 200m evening...and of course the sessions where Haiti athletes were involved.( Men :Triple Jump, 110 hurdles, 800m, Women : 200m and 400m) 

- 1 evening at the Basketball Arena - Czech Republic against Croatia for women in the the early round...surprisingly fun to watch.

- 1 afternoon at Excel to meet up with Pauline and Meumeu for Women's boxing ( first time at the Olympics), something i would never have paid money for but came out feeling really positive about as i was lucky enough to be sat next to 2 British girls who loved boxing and explained to me what is so cool about it...also was the semi finals day where Katie Flanagan boxed and so half of Ireland was there singing and being incredibly lovely and loud.

- 1 afternoon at the Aquatics center...truly a beautiful building, watching synchronised swimming. Why aren't men allowed to compete in this?? that would be true gender equality, and i m sure the profile of the sport would go up and more people would realise how incredibly physically demanding it is.

- 2 afternoons at the North Greenwich Arena ( the O2 for those who know London) watching gymnastics and trampoline...whoop whooop

Quite cool, right???

They clamped down at the end of the Games, as they realised people were doing this more and more and all 3 of my team-mates were turned out of a venue...not me! 

So yes, i experienced the Olympics inside and out.

Pins and Things

It was the first Olympics for myself and about 60000 other volunteers but for many people including athletes, coaches and dignitaries, this is "just" one other. 

And as with many traditions, all sorts of rituals and habits grow into and around the main show. 

Hence the "Pins Exchange".

This is how it works: every delegation brings with them a series of ordinary pins that represent their country and the Olympics and each athlete and member of delegation ( and volunteers if you are lucky) get a handful of them to do as they please. The pins rapidly evolve into some sort of currency as athletes start exchanging them with team-mates from other countries and wear them on their accreditation. Delegations also start giving them out to people who have done them a service ( giving directions, helping them in some small way) and before you know it, you see individuals walking around the village with gleaming lanyards full of pins. Competition then comes in and some pins are considered more valuable or sought after than others ( Jamaica, USA being unsurprisingly one of the favourites). Soon everyone looks at your lanyard before checking out your name on the pass and finally looking at your face. "Do you have any pins to exchange?" becomes a favoured icebreaker.

The frenzy evolves to the point where outside the village you will have a real street market for pins, where visitors who have been to previous Olympics will bring in their collection and start trading. I met this American who was a volunteer at the 1984 games and has been going to each Games since, hooked by the virus, "there is simply nothing quite like the Olympics". At every Game he brings pins to trade and collect the ones he wants from the current event. This way he met Queen Sofia of Spain, numerous famous athletes and other personalities.

So the question is : " But what do you do with them?"...well, nothing really, it s mostly a bit of memorabilia. 

I must admit i wasn't very good at this game, not really seeing the point but in the last couple of days, i got a handful of Haiti pins off our tight-fisted chef de mission and started to be on the lookout, not really knowing what countries i wanted, so i've ended up with a motley selection....Haiti being quite rare ( partly due the drip supply managed by the Chef de Mission), we could easily exchange one of them for 2 see how this becomes addictive. 

It's actually quite a nice little tradition as the pin is worth exactly how much each individual values it and i will keep mine for a while but knowing myself, i ll probably get bored of them soon. Maybe ebay???