Behind the scenes: Meet the people making the London 2012 Olympics run smoothly
It is a sunny morning in Trafalgar Square and Charlotte Leigh, a Games Maker for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Game, proudly displays the pins she’s collected on the lanyard that holds her official ID card. She calls them the “currency” of Olympic Park and says they’re quickly becoming collectors items.
“This is a Union Jack and Olympic rings, which I swapped a pin for,” she says, pointing to a shiny one. She continues reading them one by one, “The Solomon Islands, GB London 2012, Israel, Olympic Village, Palau, Coco-Cola and Swaziland — apparently there’s only 75 of these. There’s only 10,000 of the Olympic Village pins and you can only get them in the village.”
Charlotte Leigh models the pins she’s collcted since the start of her volunteer position.
Leigh is one of 70,000 official volunteers filling the streets of London for the games. Stationed mostly in Olympic Park, she answers questions from athletes, gives information to coaches and enjoys perks like posing for photos with athletes.
The Games Makers, as they’re called, typically work between six and nine hour shifts, according to Leigh. They are people from all over the world who have come to London to volunteer in order to be a part of this historical moment. Leigh applied for a volunteer position more than two years ago. After an interview and training, she is now spending her last summer after college before beginning work as a dentist right in the heart of the Olympics — and she couldn’t be more thrilled.
“I saw Korea break two world records on Friday. I walked past the Brazilian diving team. I’ve been in the Nigerian team’s basketball video. The German team on these little bikes, racing each other down the road, dodging buses,” Leigh recalls as her eyes light up. “The village is the hub. It’s a sneak peak. Just being a part of it is incredibly exciting.”
Leigh is one of the thousands of people who play a role in making sure the Olympics go off without a hitch from behind the scenes. They’ll likely never be recognized in public and they won’t accept medals on the podium — but these people are an integral part of the machine that is the Olympic Games, and without them, the games could likely not go on.
Locog volunteers direct fans to Olympic Park.
Fred Roberto and Kevin Schultz are chiropractors for the U.S. wrestling team and joined the athletes on their quest for gold in London. They adjust the spines of wrestlers daily and monitor their nutrition and mood. When an athlete is injured, they deal with it. It’s more than a job to them — they’re as much invested in the success of the team as the athletes.
“You feel like you’re part of it, in a way, a small way,” Schultz says about seeing his team’s athletes win at competitions.
Roberto adds, “I’ve been traveling so intimately with them over the last four years. So knowing these guys and who they are, that this is the moment in time they’ve been working their entire life for, I’m so nervous for them.”
While Roberto and Schultz provide vital care behind the scenes, other people who contribute to the Olympics may enjoy a bit of time in the spotlight. Metro bumped into Paul Sperring of Wiltshire, England on the tube, dressed in polo that read “London 2012 Olympic Torchbearer.” He’s been running a football club for kids for the past 20 years and was nominated for his work. He was one of 8,000 people chosen to carry the Olympic flame across England over 70 days.
“I had to read the letter three times before I could believe I was carrying the torch,” he says. “To use one of your expressions, it was awesome. Just awesome.”
Paul Sperring was shocked to learn he’d be one of 8,000 torch bearers.
Sperring carried the flame through Ludwell and describes the experience as “surreal.”
“I did it on the 12th of July at 9:24 in the morning, the same day that Michael Johnson carried the torch — one of your countrymen,” he said. “I thought it was going to be okay until a policeman said to me, ‘Just think — for the next two and a half minutes, you’re going to be the only person on the planet who is carrying an Olympic flame.’ No pressure then,” Sperring laughs.
The spirit of kinship has even spread to London’s pubs, where bartenders are experiencing their highest ever volumes of thirsty patrons.
The crowd surrounding the Podium Bar.
Jason Murrain manages the Podium Bar, a pop-up sports bar with big-sceen TVs that show the Games right outside the entrance to Olympic Park. Metro asks his secret to running a successful business during one of the busiest times in London’s history.
“Smiling when it rains,” Murrain jokes before adding, “We’ve got a multicultural team. Normally, when a customer comes in who doesn’t speak English, we’ve got a member on staff who speaks their language.”
With more than 2 million visitors from every country of the world coming to London for the games, volunteers, residents, fans and workers have managed to foster a kinship that goes beyond cultural divides — one Londoners hope will remain long after the Olympics.
Even Metropolitan Police take time to offer directions.
Fans angry over empty seats at ‘sold out’ events
People who were shut out of events like gymnastics and beach volleyball will have a second chance at buying tickets. Following an uproar after dozens of seats went unoccupied at marquee events that were reportedly “sold out,” like swimming, Olympic officials have “re-zoned” areas set aside for VIPs and the media, making more slots available for the public. Some fans, though, say it’s too little too late.
Danielle Gallo, a senior at Temple University in Philadelphia who is in London on a study abroad program, said it was “very difficult” for U.S. citizens to buy Olympic tickets in the U.K. prior to today for beach volleyball and gymnastics.
“The ones that I wanted to buy tickets to, they were saying they were unavailable,” she told Metro. “I bought tickets for something else because that was all I could find.”