Location: Athens, Beijing, London, Rio de Janeiro
I have often wondered what makes the success of the Olympic Games. Immediate thoughts go to the Athletes of course. They are the stars. We all came to see them shine on their most important moments in their lives. We know their past results as they enter the stadium. We know how they have prepared themselves and how they qualified for these Olympics.
But when I look at especially the photos and short films that I shot during all those Olympics, there is something else that strikes me. The unique ambiance with all those fans coming from all over the world. But that ambience starts with your entrance in the hosting city. You are welcomed on airports, in bus stations, in every corner of the city by those people that have gone through their qualification and preparations to be at their best during these Olympics.
It’s the volunteers.
There are thousands and thousands that go through the same procedure every year. Application – Entrance in the Olympic movement – Preparation – allocation to a certain task during the Games and their committed service to athletes, sponsors and us, Fans.
It is remarkable that in all 6 Olympic journeys I always saw smiling faces. Welcoming arms and a helpful aura. We sometimes fooled them when entering the stadium and then asking to the volunteer at the entrance if it was correct that we were in the Hockey stadium. When actually we were heading for the handball event. A short shock on their face. Which we changed quickly by telling it was a joke.
I remember vividly the volunteers at the Olympic park in London. Bolt had won another gold medal and together with Mo Farah they both had their unique postures. We all know those gestures. The whole crowd took it over. But also, when leaving the park all volunteers and even the policemen did the Bolt & Farah gestures as a wave of goodbye.
As a volunteer you are not paid, hence the word volunteer. A very small daily allowance doesn’t cover the costs. Often, they have to sleep somewhere far away from their designated activities. This means a lot of daily travelling on top of the long hours. In most Olympics the volunteers get one ticket to see one Olympic event, often a less popular match in preliminaries.
And then you have their job. As a volunteer you can be very lucky to hold the baskets that are used for some clothes for the athletes that are about to start their race in the Olympic stadium during the athletics events. You can be very very lucky getting a box from Bolt. But the reality is that thousands and thousands most jobs are not within reach of seeing anything of any sport events. Directing the way from the tube station to the stadium; collecting the garbage from the dustbins. Giving information on events and locations of stadiums in the central train station. Etc.
So, overall; you lose money, you don’t see much of the Olympic sports, you travel for hours and then you still have to work long hours on a boring job that in real life you would never accept? Yes. And still it’s for many their dream job.
Why? Because their part of the Olympic Movement. They are part of that unique Olympic Adventure. Part of sports history in the making. And they meet up with people, often fan of sports, from all over the world. Some friends for life.
I wish I had at a young age the guts to apply for the Olympics in Seoul or Barcelona, or Atlanta. Now it is too late. But is it? We met …. A German volunteer of 73 years old (!) He helped us at the scariest moment during our Rio ’16 Olympics. We were lost in the north of Rio, during rush hour. And we saw nowhere where we had to go.
It was so crowded, and we did not see any tourists that we a bit worried. Besides, we had to get going if we wanted to be on time for Bolt’s last golden medal. And then we saw the familiar jersey of the Rio ’16 volunteer. Tension dropped and with his help we got the right train back to the coastal area.
Our volunteer hero was not only a senior in life, he was a volunteer senior; he had visited several Games and also volunteered at the World cup 2006 in Germany, his home country.
He was heading also to the Olympic Stadium that same night. He was lucky😉. Only at around 22.00 we saw how lucky he was. We were at the finish line (that is another story) and suddenly we saw our German friend. He was in the ‘’area’’ that is in between the stand and the pitch.
We shouted his name and he saw us us both with big cameras. He gestured that we should come over… Huh? He was responsible to direct all professional photographers! Damn. It was 5 minutes before the last final of Bolt; the 4x100m. We did not dare. We had to go outside, and we were there not on our tickets. We waved and stayed put.
After Bolt’s victory we took our pictures. And he did also. So nice to see him, 73 years old and trying hard to get close to Usain. To take a picture. For his album. You know the film UP? He looked like the old fellow in that movie who also collected memories in his album. His album of life. So did our German friend.
So, one thing on my bucket list added: Being a volunteer at the Olympics.
Now, let’s hope I get lucky one day and see the daughter of Dafne Schippers win a gold medal.
And I will be there trying to take a picture. And getting an autograph😉. Hey, I might then be 73, it will feel like I’m still 12…
So, Bach, athletes and all fans; cherish those volunteers and treat them nice.
They for sure will do that to you!
Ps: here you see our German Friend ‘meeting’ Bolt 😉