July 9th 9:00am – the adventure begins.
I was assigned directly to the Venue Technology Manager, Germana Gili. I was later to learn that Germana was a former member of the Italian National Skeleton squad – that’s the ‘sport’ where you lay headfirst on a tea tray and launch yourself down a mountainside at suicidal speeds.
For some reason that I didn’t know, and still don’t, I was the only volunteer with the Technology Team at this time; the others would start around Jul 24th.
The first day was mainly learning my way around the stadium, finding out who’s who, and helping out with some menial tasks. In addition, it became necessary to come to terms with the endless list of acronyms. Each room had a space code (…don’t ask!), the senior positions had acronyms (Germana was the VTM, I was the VTTM, and we worked in the VTO), and we all had specific accreditation levels, which, once the tournament got underway, would control which areas we could access. However, if your accreditation was inadequate for some areas, upgrade passes were available. In the main, the system worked, but there were instances when getting an upgrade had a remarkable synergy with having to install a Microsoft upgrade. On most days I walked miles – I estimate between 5 and 10 miles per day! There’s a road circuit, more like a tunnel, inside the stadium that’s about 1K all the way round!
Within an hour or two of starting on day 1, a big articulated UPS truck that was delivering most of the tech equipment, managed to knock a sprinkler off in the tunnel, causing an instantaneous deluge, which in turn caused a fire shutter to descend directly on top of the truck, damaging both the shutter and it’s motor. However, the incident proved that the fire equipment worked, and the truck looked a bit cleaner on its way out! A bit later in the day, a scissor lift, delivered from HSS to allow contractors to install some high level cabling got jammed, blocking a roadway in the outside broadcast area, bringing work to a halt. A cracking start, but the rest of the week went reasonably smoothly, until Thursday night when £15,000-worth of installed cabling was stolen from the stadium! It was a 3-day job to replace it. Incidentally, the jammed scissor lift was fixed when an HSS engineer showed up and kicked it! The Technology Team was keen to learn more about this approach to problem solving.
Most of the first week I was working with the Telecoms team, installing and testing patch cables for the Press desks in the stadium and the Media centre. I’m still waiting for my Patching and Testing badges! The picture is Sinead, a member of the BT Team and my patching and testing mentor, demonstrating the art of cabling. At the end of the week the stadium was formally handed over to LOCOG, which meant that the during the next week we would have to get all of the equipment deployed and tested. Apparently, LOCOG only had access during my first week out of the kindness of Wembley’s hearts, and there was therefore a limit on what could be done.
We all had a remarkable amount of access in the stadium (other than the pitch). It was often easier to get from one part of the stadium to another by walking round the pitch, slipping out via the players’ tunnel, or any of the other access points. The downside of doing any work in the stadium itself is that you get blasted with piped music and cheering every time another Wembley Tour party came out of the tunnel. Most of the work was fairly boring (e.g. cabling ~400 press desks), but every time you looked over your shoulder, there was the pitch, the stands, it was Wemberley – our national football stadium!!!! Just like a little kid, really!
I came across this article which gives some good background to some of the technology being used by the Olympics.
The hand over to LOCOG meant that G4S now came on site to control access to the stadium, although Wembley Security still maintained responsibility inside the stadium itself. So, all LOCOG staff (inc. me, as this was now my designation, reinforced by being issued with a LOCOG fit-out pass!) were subjected to accreditation checks, bag searches, and a scan with one of those hand-held wands – after emptying pockets of coins, phones and any other metallic objects. It wasn’t too big a deal, but it happened every time anyone needed to enter or leave the stadium. On one day I was in and out several times, sorting out an installation in the traffic management hut in the car park, and was subjected to the full check about 4 times, all within one hour!
I became the television guru at the start of the second week, delivering and installing Panasonic TVs to numerous locations (venue mgt., press, broadcast, timing/stats, results delivery, etc.). I also took on a supervisory role for UPSs (Uninterrupted Power Supplies). These were being installed in all of the communications cabinets to ensure ‘event continuity’. Somehow, Panasonic managed to deliver about 100 more TVs than were ordered. To the disappointment of a lot of LOCOG staff and contractors, they were all returned! The picture shows the mountain of kit in the Technology Storage Compound, awaiting deployment.
There was an invasion of Coca-Cola staff during the week, touring the stadium – a sort of corporate jolly for being a major sponsor. Fortunately they didn’t get in the way, although a couple of ladies who were checking the location of vending machines, called on my vast knowledge of the geography of the stadium. By this stage I was wearing a high-vis vest and had been assigned a clipboard, clearly someone of great importance and infinite knowledge.
I managed a sneaky visit to Wembley Arena on Wednesday, courtesy of Holly, the Volunteers’ coordinator. Much less glamorous – the Arena that is, not Holly! There were all kinds of temporary constructions inside the west end of the arena – a sort of shantytown – to accommodate the Games’ organisational needs, as well as additional changing facilities for competitors. I caught a brief look at the badminton courts, but rather like the pitch in the stadium, you could look, but not touch!
The last job on Friday was securing some small UPSs under the desks on the broadcast tribune – where the TV cameras and commentators are located. This area has been newly constructed, and it was scary! I can’t believe that it met H&S standards, as there were no barriers at the ends of the platforms, which were right alongside a steeply raked, and narrow stairway. There seemed to be a fairly decent prospect that we could lose a few commentators over the edge! Unfortunately, by the time the football tournament started, barriers were erected, and to the best of my knowledge all commentators came through unscathed.
Over the following weekend, the stadium underwent a full security sweep by the police. They were in the stadium on Friday for a briefing and to conduct some preliminary checks – I ran into a bunch of them up on level 5, with sniffer dogs, checking for explosives. None were found, I assume, but after the full security sweep the stadium was essentially locked down, and security checking on entry went up another level.
The stadium gets dressed
All of the other volunteers were in on Friday for their venue training – I was excused! As far as the Technology Team was concerned, everything seemed to be on schedule, but there was still a fair amount to do before the following Wednesday when the football tournament would get underway, in Coventry. I didn’t have a shift on the following Monday as it was expected that there would just be a follow-up or continuation of the security sweep.
The arrival of the torch, and kick-off
Wednesday July 25th, two days before the opening ceremony, was the big day when the football tournament kicked off, at 4pm in Coventry, and was also the day the Olympic Torch Relay came to Wembley. As ‘staff’ we were all afforded an exclusive viewing area outside the stadium. BBC Coverage.
As Wembley was the hub for the Men’s and Women’s football tournaments, the technology office needed to be staffed, irrespective of where the games were being played. Once the tournament got underway, we were on a three line whip to wear our lovely uniforms. Strangely, all LOCOG employees and volunteers had identical uniforms – impossible to distinguish between the paid employees and the unpaid!
There was a generally confident air about the office as the clock ticked down to 4pm. Everyone gathered around the television sets to see the tournament start, and breathed a sigh of relief that the technology all worked. From this point on, with the office fully staffed with volunteers, we were basically in maintenance mode, dealing with routine checks of equipment, fielding various service requests, and generally running assorted errands. As everyone got to know each other the atmosphere lightened up, everyone relaxed and started to make the most of the relatively boring time hanging out in the office. Two televisions were set up and we were able to keep up with the unfolding events throughout the Olympics. The exceptional performances by many GB competitors in their various events were enthusiastically followed; it got quite raucous at times.
The Results Delivery Team, in the adjoining office, set up a table tennis table, cunningly constructed from 2 notice boards, some empty TV boxes; the net was a line of empty UPS boxes. Everything was held together with tape. They organised a tournament, which ran for several days. Sadly the team of Germans, from Omega, took the spoils; it didn’t even go to a penalty shoot-out.
Whenever one of the Football matches was played at Wembley, we were all on call. The on-site technology equipment came into full use by the press, broadcasters, photographers, and all of the ancillary services associated with getting the players and officials in the right place at the right time. Additionally, the results and statistics service, part of the Technology Team, came in to action, counting every pass, shot, corner, goal, etc. etc. Two hours before kick-off, Wembley is ‘locked down’. This meant that our free and easy access to all parts of the stadium now came under strict control, and were subject to accreditation status. Wembley security staff were everywhere; every entrance, exit, stairway and lift. In general we were able to secure an inconspicuous but excellent view of the games, usually from behind the press desks, assuming we were not called to deal with any service requests.
Some people think it’s all over….
Suddenly the days all seemed to merge into each other; the technology was working and we had very little to do. About midway through the second week of the Games, the conversations started to turn towards how we would wrap our big adventure, and how down we would all feel when it was all over. Plans were made for an end of tournament celebration after the Men’s final on Saturday 11th August. In true technology fashion, it was necessary to subject the plan to an appropriate test, so after the Men’s semi-final on Tuesday, we checked out a local hostelry, appropriately called The Torch, and found that it met our requirements. Immediately after the Men’s final, all volunteers were invited to a wrap up session in the stadium with food and drink (courtesy of an Olympic sponsor – a well known purveyor of fizzy, sugary alcohol-free drinks). It was a good session, and all of the volunteers were roundly praised by the venue manager, operations manager and the CEO of Wembley National Stadium Ltd.
The Technology Volunteers in a sea of Games Makers
And so, feeling warm and cosy from the praise, somewhat sad that the adventure was over, and desperate for alcohol, the residue of the Technology volunteers made their way to The Torch for a final farewell. Having secured a suitably sized table to accommodate us, we were approached by a rather large gentleman (I use the word loosely), not the sort of guy us delicate technology-type normally mix with, who promptly worked his way round the table, shaking hands with all of us, and informing the entire clientele of The Torch what a brilliant job the Olympic Volunteers had done. It didn’t quite match up to a gold medal ceremony, but we were all touched by the sentiment, and served as a suitable accolade as the curtain came down on an unforgettable experience.