Friday, 30 March 2012

The week we won the Games

This week, I saw a striking headline in the Tring Gazette outlining that Martine Wiltshire, a victim of the 2005 London bombings, will be competing at the Paralympic Games. Martine will compete as part of Team GB’s sitting volleyball team. I have to say, her story is just an amazing example of how to turn a truly horrendous experience into something positive or in her own words, ‘how to create new dreams out of something so negative.’

Martine had been out celebrating the fact that London had been awarded the Olympics in that fateful July. I too had been down at Trafalgar Square that lunch time – I remember my colleagues and I were asked to discretely finish up our beers by a couple of bobbies as there’s a no drinking policy under Nelson’s shadow. (Although I swear it was always the place to gather for New Year’s Eve drinkies). So Martine took a later train to work the next day and found herself sitting just 4ft away from a suicide bomber.

At around a similar time, I was evacuated from Westminster Tube Station just yards from the Houses of Parliament. The escalators weren’t working and I remember that my boyfriend and I were moaning about having to walk up so many flights of stairs. We then jumped on the nearest bus (like everyone else) before reports started coming through about a blast in Aldgate, where Martine must have been.

Everyone had a story to tell about that day. Later in the year, I was catching up with an old colleague when the conversation turned to this day and she told me her cousin had been killed in Tavistock Square. So I always felt that it could have been any of us that morning in 2005 and I’m still so sorry for all the victims and their families; it was such a bitter blow after one of the most incredible days in our history. But to read Martine’s story lifts my heart; I’ll certainly be following her every move this summer, willing her to gold in the very city where her life changed forever. Go Martine and team!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Getting into the spirit of the Olympics

It’s a fact of life that some things are more ‘newsworthy’ than others. No one really wants to know what you had for breakfast or whether your child just did their first poo in a potty on Facebook. They’re just being polite.

So when I heard about a massive Catholic youth event celebrating faith and the Olympics at Wembley Arena this weekend, it was hardly surprising (although a shame) that I had difficulty finding news about it on Google. Turns out Sebastian Coe gave a video address to nearly 10,000 teenagers about sport and the commitment of the Olympic values: friendship, respect and excellence. He joked that this was the only time in his life that he’d be asked to be the Pope’s warm up act.

It sounded like a highly successful day with Jason Gardener (not the Dancing On Ice judge – the Olympic sprinter) addressing the crowd, along with Stef Reid, pin up girl of the Paralympics, a speed skating nun and other Olympic and Paralympic medal winners.

I have to say, I was taken by the idea of so many young people listening and reflecting quietly on the meaning of the Olympics, the links between sport and faith and what it is to be self-motivated in 2012. And given that so much attention is focused on the logistics of London 2012 at the moment, it was a great reminder that actually, the Olympics are about much more than just Big Macs and lycra.

See more on Twitter #flame2012

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Smells like the Olympics

It’s all go on the London 2012 Olympics news front as we get enticingly nearer to the UK's BIGGEST SUMMER OF SPORT EVER. In case you’ve been too busy being bombarded by Usain Bolt ads or recovering from Sunday's early start to watch the Melbourne Grand Prix (Well done Jenson), here’s a round up of all the big Olympic stories:

1. The volunteers uniform has just been revealed, with the Mayor of London ‘apologising’ for the uniform. If you’re not a UK resident, you might not be familiar with our self-deprecating sense of humour. Right Boris?!

2. The exact times and locations of the Olympic Torch have just been revealed. I’m secretly a bit gutted as I’d booked a cottage at Land’s End the day the Torch was due to set off. But then it turned out I’d potentially be in labour that day, so that cancelled that out. Who knew the title the Mummy Olympics would actually be so apt?

3. You can see the athletes’ apartments online now. I like the fact the beds are extendable for particularly ‘long’ athletes like basketball players. I wonder if the Cubans are annoyed at being called the noisy party team whom no one wants to stay next to?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Madeline Manning Mims

While I was working at the religious centre in the Olympic Village in Sydney, I was lucky enough to meet some very interesting people. None more so than Madeline Manning Mims. When I first met her, also dressed in the ‘lovely’ volunteers uniform, she came and sat down in reception and we began to chat. She told me she was a gold and silver track medalist back in the day (800m gold medalist at Mexico City no less). She explained her role as a minister for athletes, having founded the United States Council for Sports Chaplaincy. And then she told me about Munich.

I was astonished by my ignorance, for this was before Stephen Spielberg had done his ‘let’s educate the next generation about history’ thing. Madeline had seen the Palestinian terrorists shortly before they killed their first Israeli athlete. The US quarters were in proximity to the Israeli rooms, and she and her teammates witnessed one of the terrorists firing his gun before they all turned and fled. Talking to Madeline, you could see the experience still had an effect on her. After all, she felt she had been staring death in the face that day.

So I often think about my time spent hanging out with Madeline. I expect she will travel to London this summer and be sat talking with another young volunteer in the Olympic Village in Stratford. I wonder what she will make of it all? It must be strange to have travelled to so many Olympic Games. I wonder if you ever become blazĂ© to it all? And do some years stand out over others? It would be great to know. Madeline, if you’re reading this, we’d love to hear from you!

More about Madeline

Friday, 9 March 2012

A week of Olympic news

Here’s a cracking blog I was directed to by the Today programme on Radio 4 this week. It’s all about the Olympic legacy and makes some fascinating comparisons between Sydney 2000 and London 2012. The question is, will we be in for a white elephant or not?

We really are a nation of batty eccentrics at times. Someone, anonymous, has spent an inordinate amount of time knitting a 150ft Olympics scarf. Yes, a scarf. But instead of wrapping it around say, the neck of statue, they’ve attached it to a Victorian pier in North Yorkshire. Go figure. Well done whoever you are. I'd love to know how long you've been knitting it for...

It’s been a week of aquatic highs for Team GB at the British Gas Swimming Championships 2012. Ellie Simmonds became the first person to break a world record at the London 2012 pool. Fran Hansell set the fastest 100m freestyle time of the year and is set to reach number one in the world. Oh you know, I could go on.

The only downer was the news that Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe was downplaying his chances of being at London 2012. Tactics or defeated already? Either way, didn’t sound like the champ we knew and loved at Sydney 2000. Come on Thorpedo, London is really looking forward to welcoming you!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Sydney Olympic Village

Seeing as I’m in reminiscing mode, I thought I’d dig up some memories of my time in the religious centre at the Olympic Village in Sydney. As this was 12 years ago now, I find myself wishing I could remember more details. I also wish I could find my photos.

Here is an extract from my diary at the time – it’s quite factual, but I have other more pertinent memories to blog about another day. It does however make you wonder how village life will compare in 2012. No ‘discotheque’ I’m guessing!

‘6th Sept 2000. Village people!! Started working in the Olympic Village yesterday. It’s shift work but my hours are usually 8am to 6pm. So I was up at 5am to get the bus to Central, then the train to Lidcombe where shuttle buses run to the athletes village in the newly created suburb of Newington. There are 10,000 athletes and 5,000 officials going to be living there once it starts. Some have already arrived. Security is tight and there are hundreds of people, around 25,000 in total maybe?

I am in the International Zone where all the amenities are, like a discotheque serving no alcohol, a huge internet cafĂ© (the aptly named ‘Surf Shack’, always chocka with athletes), shops selling souvenirs, Kodak, tickets etc, and a huge games hall with around 800 arcade machines and games. There’s also a cinema, admin blocks and of course, us, the religious services. The five main world faiths are represented, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Hindus – and there are representatives from each faith always on call.

I am on reception. The coolest people I met the first day were Phra Mana, a Buddhist monk from Thailand, and his colleague from Laos (forget his name, very difficult words to remember), whom I chatted with for ages. They have a real aura and I could sit and listen to them for ages. No one is allowed to force their beliefs on to anyone and no one tries to. It is fascinating to learn firsthand from people, to understand what they’re all about. Actually, I think it is amazing they can all get along under one roof – what the spirit of the games is all about, I guess. I felt privileged to have all these holy men and women around me, from all over the world.’

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Sex, religion & village people

Working in the athlete’s village was an eye opener to my 22-year-old self. It was one big party for all the countries of the world to attend. Sure, there was real blood, sweat and tears in terms of sporting angst going on, but there were also other blood, sweat and tears being shed elsewhere. At night, you could see the cherries of cigarettes as the village bus propelled you to your relevant destination (mine was the religious centre, randomly. I was answering the phones there. These calls usually involved answering questions like what time is Mass/Morning Prayer or do you have any Bibles or Polish Priests available?).

I also learned about the massive trade in condoms on site. That’s right. When athletes and their physios/coaches/officials rest, they like to do it with other athletes, apparently*. So when I saw this ad on the Chip Shop Awards website this week, it made me smile for this and other reasons. I should warn you, it’s in very bad taste (contains swear words kids), so probably won’t appeal to everyone. I wonder how many condoms will be ordered for this summer’s fun and games? Here's the link to 'Life in the Olympic Village 2012'.

*I expect this is an overclaim on my part, and only applies to single, available athletes, right? I personally never got to find out, seeing as volunteers have their own section of the dining room to eat in. The closest I got to an athlete in the village was on the bus when it resembled the tube and a bunch of male Tunisian athletes were enjoying the proximity to random young women. Actually, this isn’t true either. I was invited into the Team GB quarters by a friend who was canoeing. But that is another story.