Engineering the Olympics: a Games Maker’s story

27 September 2012
Aerial view of the Olympic Park showing the Stadium and warm-up track.

Much has been written about the engineering and technology behind the construction of the Olympic Park and sports venues, but, as Graham Paterson found out when he was a London 2012 Games Maker, there was much more going on behind the scenes.

IET Fellow Graham Paterson is a Chartered Engineer, and after a 38-year career in the RAF he joined the policy team of the then IEE in June 2003, retiring as director of IET Governance and Policy in December 2010. He has been involved in athletics since his schooldays, both as a competitor and in organisational roles, serving as a field events judge for the past ten years. Here, Graham describes his experiences of this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics Games to Member News:

“My Games Maker journey started in October 2009 when UK Athletics, the national governing body, asked technical officials if they would be interested in officiating at the 2012 Games. Although not selected I was encouraged to apply for other athletics-related volunteer roles through the special sports route and, after an interview, was offered a place at both the Olympics and Paralympics. My offer for the Olympics came through in September 2011 whilst I was on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic, but, thanks to the on-board Internet connectivity, I was able to accept the role before the deadline. There then followed general orientation training at Wembley, role-specific training at the Olympic Stadium, a ‘real time’ run through at the ‘London Prepares’ test event, and after uniform collection I was ready to take up my role as part of the Athletics Training Venues team based at the warm-up track adjoining the Olympic Stadium.

“The easiest way to get to the Olympic Park was by public transport, but we were only too well aware of the warnings about delays and overcrowding. For me the busiest time to travel was when the end of our afternoon/evening shift coincided with the end of the evening sessions in the Stadium and other venues which could have meant upwards of 120,000 people leaving the Park. The good humoured crowds were managed in ‘train-sized chunks’ and, with additional trains on all routes from Stratford, even peak-time homeward journeys were uneventful. The public area of the Olympic Park was a ‘car free’ environment with transport limited to assistance buggies and essential service vehicles. Athletes were brought from the Olympic Village to the warm-up track by bus using routes that avoided the public areas. Whilst a proportion of the assistance buggies were electric, I wasn’t aware of any of the buses being electric. Was this was a missed opportunity?

“On arrival at the Park the first thing was to go through security. A scan of the bar code on one’s accreditation to confirm identity and that you were due to be on shift, airport-style checks on bags (and person if necessary) and a few minutes later I was on my way. The next port of call was workforce check-in (collect a meal ticket, daily news sheet, ‘goodies’ and sun cream), a temporary facility situated at a level below the main concourse. Indeed, it was here that the scale of the temporary facilities first became apparent with nearby accommodation for the ceremonies crews and participants, workforce restaurant (including kitchens), and toilet blocks. Power for lighting, air handling and conditioning units, catering equipment, and pumps for the water and waste installations was provided by a mix of mains power and on-site generators. Next to this area was a large logistics park together with electrical and mechanical workshops, mobile emergency medical facilities, and outside broadcast vehicles.

“A 500 metre walk around the back of the Stadium and along the overhead tunnel brought me to the training and warm-up track. Within the warm-up track we had a mix of temporary accommodation: rigid structures (athletes lounge with refreshments, toilets and changing rooms, physiotherapy centre, offices and storage areas); semi-rigid (weight training room during the Olympics; storage of racing wheelchairs - well over 200 including Sally and Dolly - and throwing frames during the Paralympics); tented accommodation for teams with lighting, power and TV; and container accommodation for the equipment and implements that you’d find at any athletics facility. The technologies behind the design, manufacture, testing and certification of throwing implements, vaulting poles, racing wheelchairs, distance measuring equipment, starting, timing and photo finish equipment deserves an article in its own right. Aficionados will have noticed that there wasn’t a measuring tape or stopwatch in sight.

“Although a full range of ICT services was available, including a dedicated Games Maker website through which we booked all of our training and accessed our shift rosters, we used paper-based systems for the booking in and out of training equipment and for the registration, validation, and tracking of personal equipment (throwing implements, vaulting poles, racing chairs and throwing frames) for use in competition. The paperwork could have been automated but the processes were so simple that this would have been of marginal benefit.

“Numerous management and broadcast radio systems were in use throughout the Olympic Park and it was interesting to see a small team from Ofcom present during the early stages. Athletes had an array of personal portable devices and, with Wi-Fi provided in the athletes’ lounge, many used VOIP services to keep in contact with family and friends – often with medals around their necks and a wave from a passing Games Maker. Coaches also used portable devices to film athletes in training providing instant analysis of performance. The IOC has its own broadcasting service (OBS) and news service (ONS) and it was the OBS feed from the Olympic Stadium that was screened at the warm-up track.

“Finally, a note about our ‘neighbours’. Temporary stables and pens for the animals that featured in the Opening Ceremony, and the police horses, were just outside our fence. They too required logistic support including water that was brought by road and stored in temporary tanks; we assumed waste went out in a similar way! During the Paralympics we also kept an eye on the exercise area for the assistance dogs.

“I know other IET members were Games Makers, and many others will have been involved in the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the iconic venues, the temporary facilities and the energy, ICT and transport infrastructures. It all came together ‘on the day’ with many a plaudit from the Olympic and Paralympic families. To have been part of the 2012 Games was something that I’ll never forget and, in addition, our profession can be proud that behind the scenes we did indeed ‘engineer the Olympics’.”

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