Today was my first shift but as it didn’t start until 6:30pm I had the day to relax and get ready. Bryan and Lorraine had been working for almost two weeks already so their mixed stories of meeting famous swimmers and Aquatic Centre politics left me a bit unsure about what to expect.
But they were Team Yellow – I am Team Green; two very different roles and experiences. Team Yellow are the Operational Support and they do all the hard work really. Team Green is the fun team who look after the public and wave big fingers pointing the way, tag small children, scan the tickets at the gates and get the crowds whooped up with the megaphone!
So at 3pm (I knew I should allow extra time to get there today) I set off. My daily commute from now on was going to follow the same pattern; 15 minute walk to Cantagalo metro station, (allowing for a 10 minute walk inside to reach the platform) 5 minutes on the first train to Gal Osoria where I would change to the brand spanking new Line 4 – opened just in the nick of time for the games.
Then 15 minutes to the end of this line where I would change to the BRT (Bus Rapid Transport) service to the Olympic park. These are the long bendy buses but they work really well here as they use special lanes only for them and they move fast too!
Lastly – the worst bit – a good 20-25 minute walk from the BRT station to the Olympic Park entrance. It takes so long at this time of day as there are thousands of people all trying to go the same way but everyone here walks so slowly and they zigzag all over the place – can nobody ever walk in a straight line here??
Once at the park I have to go through the workforce entrance where it takes just a couple of minutes to have my bag scanned and my pass checked – then I’m in.
From here there is another long walk to the Aquatics Centre where I am for my first 2 shifts as it was at the opposite end of the park – typical. Again trying to get through the mass of people here could almost take as long as the journey itself. It is really tiring when it’s hot too. I can’t wait to be in the Velodrome which is right near the entrance 🙂
Bryan had come with me for this first trip to help show me where to go – the workforce entrance was really hard to find as it was at pretty much the furthermost point in the park. But once in, I checked in and a lovely young Brasilian chap named Marcus took me under his wing – it was his second day here! He spoke a bit of English so we could have a basic conversation. It seems as if his daily commute was an hour longer than mine – outrageous!
The first thing they ask you to do is to go for dinner. Strange when the precise moment you don’t need a break is when they give you one. So Marcus and I headed for the mess tent where he introduced me to a few other volunteers.
I had heard the food was pretty good here. But they must have been talking about the food elsewhere as this was disgusting. This video shows the same vegetarian option I was served on many days I was working.They really don’t have much imagination when it comes to feeding vegetarians here – mostly a carb overload. This was definitely the worst meal I had. It was gross!
After dinner we were allocated our roles. I got tasked with guarding the media zone. As there are not many fluent English speakers here (hardly any actually) they felt i would be best placed here as most press speak English.
Everyone here has an accreditation and some have special numbers on. These numbers allow you access to certain areas and my job was only allowing 4s and 5s through the gate. These are the world’s press and they were coming and going all the time. At the end of a swimming race they would all go mad running around to get the photos and reports back to their paper or magazine.
It was very busy guarding my gate but there were a couple of nice “Team Green” volunteers nearby who would pop along to help when it got really really busy. By the end of the day though I was knackered. On my feet the whole day and as anyone who knows me can tell you, since I hurt my back in the fall from the horse in Mongolia, I cannot stand. Any standing has me in agony so the whole time I was on my post, I had to do a little dance or just walk in circles to keep moving. I bet I looked most bizarre!
I left at midnight for the long journey back home – same but all in reverse. Bryan had stayed in the park after watching some events, to make sure I got home ok as it was pretty late and Rio has a bad reputation.
But we were fine and to be honest, the area we are staying in felt pretty safe and we never experienced any negative behaviour at all. Well apart from one lady who punched me in the street but that’s another story.
The following day I was back in the Aquatics Centre and soon found the lovely Marcus to chat to again. Here I also teamed up with English speaking William from Holland. Our routine was the same as day 1 but this time I was allocated a slightly different role.
Day 1 had been only 4s and 5s through the gate. My gate to guard on Day 2 was rather special.
Athletes and VIP seating area. “Today” as a very stern German Team Yellow Leader told me “4s and 5s are the Enemy”. Yes she actually used the word enemy.
It was the job of William & I, to check the pass of every athlete coming up from the changing rooms and the pass of every person wishing to enter the area. Sounds simple but as Michael Phelps was swimming tonight it was packed to the rafters and every swimmer from everywhere in the world wanted to be in that seating area to watch him.
It’s fair to say that I absolutely did not recognise any of the athletes and could only tell where they were from by their sport kit with their country emblazoned on it.
Apart from the Dutch – they are very very tall!
Also coming through the area were coaches, team doctors, anyone who had any type of access wanted in. It was crazily busy.
Then I was approached by a man from the public side of the gate. He spoke English and stated that “This gentleman was the invited guest of the Hungarian Prime Minister who was already inside. (Blimey I would have checked his pass too…!). Anyway “This gentleman, his lady friend and his policeman would like to go through”
So being a proper little jobsworth I asked to see their passes.
They had none!
They didn’t even have the wrong pass or a ticket or anything so of course the answer was “No – I’m sorry I can’t let you in”
Now seeing as I am not so completely Jobsworth that I couldn’t twig that this man was probably fairly important to be a guest of the Hungarian Prime Minister, I asked them to wait there a moment – in the public corridor, and I would go and find someone to assist. I left William guarding the gate and found Mrs stern scary German Team Yellow leader, explained what had been said, took her to the group and left it with her. And I thought no more about it.
Until a soldier came over to speak to me. Funnily enough I did notice there were a few extra soldiers around at the moment. He stood next to me and in a deep voice said “Presidente” indicating the man I had just been dealing with.
“Oh” I said. Of Brasil?
“Si” came his serious reply. But then I noticed he was trying not to laugh.
Ha ha – I had just told the President of Brasil – No you can’t come in!
Funnier still was that he accepted it and stood and waited there patiently rather than making demands. Wow!
I saw the same soldier around in other places after this and we always shared a little stilfled little laugh about it – can’t have soldiers seen to be laughing!
Well I don’t have any stories that will top that (unless you count the one where we shared a beer with the King of Rarotonga and he kissed my hand and invited me for a cup of tea!) but I shall definitely remember this one for dinner parties.
My 3rd shift was at the Velodrome. This was the first day the velodrome was open so for all the volunteers here today, it was our first day working here.
And what a really lovely bunch they were. Marcus was here too and everyone in Team Green was friendly, fun, smiling and just a pleasure to be with. The atmosphere was a huge difference from the Aquatics Centre. Here we were all encouraged to laugh, sing, dance (I won’t look out of place here then) and generally just have fun and make sure the public have a good time. What a refreshing change.
My spot in the velodrome every day was the same. Just inside the main entrance. As with my role in the Aquatics Centre, they needed English speaking people here as the vast majority of the spectators were from the English speaking countries of GB, USA, Australia, Canada & New Zealand.
So Many Union Jacks in there you would think we were still in the UK actually.
Well if you saw anything of the Olympics at all, you will know what an electric atmosphere there was inside there. And hot!. They have to keep the doors shut to keep the airflow to a minimum for the cyclists. I’m sure I shed a few lbs in there especially with my jigging around I had to do to keep from standing still at any time.
At the end of my first shift we were asked to help clear the stadium and get everyone moving along home. I asked this family if they could please not stand in the main doorway as they were blocking the way out. With this, the lady (English) started jumping up and down and shouting at me “my son just won a gold medal!!!”. Turns out she was Jason Kenny’s mum so I was jumping up and down with her.
I saw her every day after that and she was seeking me out to share the news and celebrate all over again. I also got chatting to Kathryn James’ granny who was there most days. She was always easily spotted at she was the only one with a huge Welsh flag – a flag not actually permitted in the Olympic games but there was no way I was going to tell them to put it away!
Every day we arrived we were supplied with a new bottle of water and some days, a gift was given out too. All in all we received 2 pin badges, a ball, an elastic wrist band and a random selection of tickets for the games. Some by email and some given to us when we arrived on shift. Then on our last day we recived another lovely pin badge and a certificate of thanks (assuming it’s thanks but it’s in Portuguese!)
The atmosphere in the Velodrome was always exciting and gave me my best experiences of being a volunteer here. Even with the language barrier everyone made an effort to include me and speak to me. It was really funny when Sandra and Thamires tried to teach me some Portuguese.
Their favourite phrase was “el ti um” not the correct spelling I know but that’s how it sounds. It means I love you and I made them all laugh by practising on everyone I met.
Here, Team Leaders were always walking the course to check was everyone ok? did we need anything? were we happy? were we having a good time? Oh yes we were having a jolly good time – especially when Team GB won and I was madly waving my small flag.
The other volunteers I got to know here were so lovely too. Patricia, Sandra, Thamires, Gizel, Glaucia, Josiani, Eny, Pedro my team leader and Rafael the Manager. What a great bunch! Many I shall keep in touch with when this is all over.
How can 2 venues at the same games feel so different I wonder? Seems so sad that the Aquatics Centre were content to be so formal and for the most part pretty unfriendly. Just the odd volunteer here and there like Marcus and William who made it bearable.
However my last 2 shifts were back there and face it i must. I only worked two shifts there and already I didn’t really want to go back.
Well go back I did but after working in the Velodrome it was such an anticlimax. I was sent to man the athletes seating area again but as the venue was now hosting water polo and not the swimming, it was much less busy and sadly, much less fun.
On my last day I didn’t see a single smiley face until I left and I bumped into a Velodrome volunteer who had been working on the opposite side to me. So it was a better way to leave than it could have been but such a shame.
But my experience on the whole has been great.
Would I do it again? Will I apply for Tokyo?
Who knows – I never say never – but do I really need another pair of ugly trainers….????