My journey with the Olympics started two years ago and 12 months prior to that the initial planning had already been started by John Woodbridge and many times we went back to the ideas and plans set in place by John Woodbridge some 4 years prior to the Olympic Games.
At the beginning of the project I felt that we had three main objectives:
- To run a competition in accordance to the UIPM rules
- To run it on time
- To ensure that we put on a ‘show’ that would enthuse the spectators and media
I had one further objective in that I wanted the athletes and sport to be really appreciated and wanted to hear a huge amount of noise of cheering and clapping as the athletes entering the arena on the last lap.
In short delivering the best modern pentathlon ever - simple job really especially given that I had already had the experience of a World Championships, acting as a Technical Delegate for the UIPM.
What is the role of a competition manager at an Olympic Games:
Along with my delivery team of over 21 paid staff, 500 volunteers and 90 officials, we have to deliver the best event at the Games. I am responsible for making sure every aspect relating to modern pentathlon happens in the right order and at the right time. It’s a massive logistical exercise with 32 functional areas to coordinate and deliver our sport. I suppose for most people the strangest thing about this role was that I didn’t have a budget.
Size of the organisation
Organising the Games is a huge challenge with 26 Olympic Sports and 20 Paralympic Sports. It’s the equivalent of staging 46 World Championship events simultaneously. LOCOG will organise these across 37 competition venues, with 14,700 athletes, 21,000 media and broadcasters, and 10.8 million ticket holders. To achieve this there’ll be a workforce of around 200,000 people by the time the Games begin and this will be made up of 6,000 paid staff, up to 70,000 volunteers and around 100,000 contractor roles. It is a massive undertaking. My thoughts towards the end of the planning phase was that Baron Pierre de Coubertin actually invented the modern pentathlon purely to test the logistical and organisational skills of a organising committee!
The venues chosen for modern pentathlon were fantastic although they did pose some challenges in the distance between each venue and that the fact that all the delivery of any activity in a venue are led by the venue teams – we had to work with a Portuguese venue manager and two Australian venue managers.
So that was the context of the Olympic Games and my experience now that it is all over and I look for my next challenge in my life but a brief look at my experiences during my 20 months at LOCOG.
In the months building up to the Olympic Games I went through the same sort of emotional stages that I would as an athlete: fear, excitement, pressure, being very nervous, tired, enthusiastic and at the end a massive injection of pure satisfaction!
The sport has gone through many changes over the last four years but for me the secret ingredient to success was people – ensuring that I had the right people around me who were professional, positive and knew what was required. It sounds simple but ......... in Great Britain we did have a fantastic team of people who had delivered good competitions over many years but these people were mostly all volunteers and were unable to commit to being professional staff on a contract that only lasts for between 3-18 months – they all have family to feed and living in London is expensive and the wages at an organising committee will not allow you to live the life of a rock star!
I was really fortunate to have an excellent core staff of Clive Townend and Louise Burns. Clive had worked with Pentathlon GB at the World Championships in 2009 and Louise had never been involved in the sport before but threw herself into the sport trying to understand it – we regularly had little tests on the rules and embarrassingly she frequently beat me. Later on we had one further addition to the core team in Susanne Risbridger who again knew little about the sport.
This core team organised the modern pentathlon element up until the last 3 months when we were supplemented by an additional 17 members of staff. During the first 17 months which included the test event (World Cup Final) was I suppose the most frustrating part of my time at LOCOG.
We had no venues, we spent our whole days planning, looking at bits of paper, spreadsheets, more spreadsheets and to be honest because the organisation was at such an early stage of its life modern pentathlon as a sport did not feature as high on the list of sports as I wanted it to – we did not conform to the normal way a sport was run at an Olympic Games and the organisation was spending its time getting the bulk of the issues resolved.
During this time we set up the strategy of selecting the horses and I was really pleased with the number and quality of horses that we had for the modern pentathlon event. I would also like to thank the athletes who had obviously spent some time improving their riding, please don’t stop there as there is work still to do.
As the jigsaw of the Olympics was being built we could see where we fitted in, and we slowly became more operational. Greenwich Park was being constructed and we could start to feel the Olympic Games coming closer.
From April 2012 the team started to come together and reviewing the plans that the core team had written. On the whole we had most of the bits and pieces right but changing things three months before the Olympic Games is difficult – even to change a time of a bus or the type of meal. Each little successful change was really rewarding for the team and started to give us confidence that we had it right.
There was still the issue over the laser shooting – a key part of the event which we all knew that the success of the competition depended on for many reasons. There was really close collaboration between UIPM, Seb Floure, Omega and my team trying to ensure that we could build and install the range overnight and test it with the athletes. We knew we were unable to fully test this out and that we would be watched closely by everybody. Again in the end this was a credit to those involved and when I received the call at 10pm on the 9th August that the range was up and working in only 4 hours I was really pleased.
Opening Ceremony 27 July
On the day of the opening ceremony (27th July) I was watching it on a large screen in Greenwich. I was feeling very tired, excited and a little nervous - I was part of this big monster and we must not let the organising committee, sport, nation or indeed the athletes down. I was really interested to see what sort of opening ceremony we would put on for the world to see and I found it rather amusing and British –well it appealed to my sense of humour.
As the athletes arrived I could see the benefits of the planning and preparation. Brentwood School was a fantastic training venue and we had a brilliant team there and it was a bit unfortunate that it was not fully used but understandable. The training horse at Circus Fields were being used and appreciated by the visiting teams and was good to see some athletes at long last.
As the Olympic Games progressed the pressure mounted for me. The Games were going really well but we were still waiting to get started. Again it is like an athlete waiting for the competition to start all you wanted to do is start and do your job.
From the 7th August the team were fairly flat out but for my for once it was strangely calm, I think this was because we were really confident in our plan, I had a really strong team who knew what they had to do and I had nothing to do! I could see how the various venues would work and knew we had sufficient resources in place to make it work. Over the next couple of days all the teams arrived and were using the training facilities – it was fast becoming real.
This was a massive day for us as we took over Greenwich Park from the equestrian world. As already mentioned the installation of the shooting range was a massive boost to our confidence. The running course looked good. The Technical Delegates were happy with the venues and officials. The Copper Box (fencing venue) was ready and looking fantastic and the testing of the fencing equipment had gone well – we were ready.
This was probably one of the most important days for our team as we did not have an opportunity to do any dressed rehearsals for the officials and we also had to fit in some broadcast rehearsals, test jumping, medal ceremony rehearsals, athlete training and pistol testing plus a Technical Meeting. It was really good to see everybody at the Technical meeting and the understanding and support that you all gave to my team. Again all these went according to time and gave us confidence that we were ready.
Well we had planned this for years and we were ready – will it work??? We were up very early as the protocol for an Olympic Games is that the key team have to be in place about 3hours before the competition starts. This wasn’t a problem as we were really excited. The volunteers and officials all arrived on time so we were just waiting for the athletes and coaches. When I received the radio cal that they had left the Olympic village on time it was a great feeling. Once the athletes arrived things change for a Competition Manager, I in effect hand everything over to Kate Allenby the fencing director who did a brilliant job to finish on time without any major issues. We reported back to the Aquatics Centre and Greenwich Park at agreed times to ensure they knew what was happening as the teams there were a bit isolated.
I left for the Aquatics Centre quite quickly after the fencing competition concluded, in fact so quickly I forgot to take the results manager with me!. Jackie Walsh and her team were ready and waiting to get started and gain they did a fantastic job without any issues. We were up against a critical time path here and this dominated everything but we finished within 1 minute of the scheduled time. The next part of the operation was for us the biggest risk in making the sport work – could we get the athletes and teams out of the Aquatics Centre and arrive at Greenwich Park on time. It didn’t start well as we had an issue of the production of the results as someone false started and the results system struggled to take the points off the athletes final score – I was becoming really agitated as this was starting to affect our timings and it was outside my control. We eventually resolved this issue and posted the results some 15 minutes late now off to Greenwich.
I was really lucky as I was being driven by an ex pentathlete Ann-Marie Woods and as we went to Greenwich Park we were already on the Greenwich Park radio channel and we heard the buses pass through the tunnel on time and heard a massive cheer from everybody in the control room as we all knew how critical this was in making the plan work. On entering Greenwich I commented to Ann- Marie about how many people were going into the stadium and she said – all to see the competition that you organised – this really hit me regarding the magnitude f what we were doing.
Again Philip Harland and his team did a great job and finished on time – excellent work. However, for me the biggest disappointment at the games then happened – the results were delayed by 17 minutes because of a mistake. I was nervous anyway because of the laser shooting but this was disappointing.
Perry Cohn and his team did a brilliant job in turning a show jumping arena in to a combined event arena within 25 minutes – again this was result of a huge amount of planning and rehearsals.
Steve Candy and his team as well as Seb Floure and his team had prepared meticulously to ensure that there would be no problems on the laser shooting and I am delighted to say that it worked really well a huge relief for us. I was delighted with the response of the spectators as David Svoboda won the gold medal especially after his experiences in Beijing.
After the medal ceremony and the athletes had departed I felt a little disappointed in the delay of 17 minutes especially as it was not the responsibility of any of my team and they had worked so hard to make it work.
The last day and after 3 hours sleep we were ready for the Women’s event. I was confident that we could deliver a successful competition as we had the day before. We had changed a few bits and pieces to address some parts of the plan that didn’t work the day before but we changed very little really.
The fencing, swimming and riding went to plan and the teams delivered an excellent event. We did have a few concerns over the timing of the start of the combined event but Steve Candy and his team a fantastic bit of work to ensure that we started on time. For me with Sam Murray finishing behind the very impressive Laura Asadauskaite and noise of the spectators was just amazing and everything I wanted for the sport.
I was so satisfied with what the team had delivered, so many people had worked so long in giving the opportunity to the 72 athletes to have the greatest day in their life. I am convinced that we created the conditions for this and it will live in my memories for ever.
We were supported by some absolutely brilliant and very professional people which enabled us to put on such a brilliant competition and without the help of these people it would not have happened – I know many of them really enjoyed being involved in the Olympic Games, the modern pentathlon event and more importantly the people involved in the sport and we fulfilled the objectives that we had when we started the project.
- Paid staff -21
- Officials - 90
- Volunteers – 165 (just for modern pentathlon)
- Computers – 90 for results, 15 administration
- Spectators – 42,000
- Horses: 120+ looked at, 43 competition horses, 12 training horses
- 13,573 emails received in 20 months
- 95% of spectators said that the quality of the sport and the entertainment of the sport was extremely good
- 97% of spectators said that the atmosphere at the event was extremely good.