The start of it all
My Sydney Olympics experience actually started back in 1993. Our school was given a number of invites to attend an event being held at Homebush Bay on the 23rd September, for the announcement of which city would host the 2000 Summer Olympics. I remember going to bed early the night before (and not getting much sleep), then driving out to Homebush where my parents and I met up with the other students, teachers and principals who also attended the event. I don’t know how many people were there that night (or should I say morning as the announcement was at 4am) but they filled the entire field. We were sitting just in front of a huge video screen watching the proceedings at the IOC Session over in Monet Carlo when Juan Antonio Samaranch spoke those words which were played back time and time again “And the winner is Syd Don Nee”. The crowd gathered there jumped to their feet and the sounds were deafening (louder than a rock concert!). I remember I didn’t get up straight away. I was just sat for a moment on the picnic blanket we had brought before I got up to join the rest of the crowd.
I remember walking back to the car. Everyone was on a high. I can’t recall if I slept when I got home. I do remember taking the day off (with principals permission of course) and going to see a session of the newly released Jurassic Park at the Beverly Hills Twin cinemas.
A couple of weeks later, I remember being in Canberra for Floriade. Whilst we were looking around, we spotted John Fahey, who was the NSW Premier at the time, and a politician over at the announcement. We showed him the video my father had taken that night as the announcement was made.
Leading up to the Olympics, I started to get involved, in an administrative role, in the local Athletics (which were held out at Homebush, what is now the Athletics stadium). I was either involved in Check-In’s/Registrations or collating the results, pending the event. For bigger events (at the time run by Optus), I would work in the Call Room (checking in athletes, making sure they had no electrical devices on them, covering sponsors, escorting them to the toilets (?)… yes I had to take an Irish Female runner to the toilet as once they check in, they have to be monitored).
I put in my Volunteer form. At the time, the employee of IBM who was getting ready for the games started to attend the events. A number of the staff who was out at the Athletics events of a weekend ended up getting through to positions, either Athletics Officials or Athletics Results systems Volunteers. Both my Father and I were selected for interviews, which happened to be one of the first ever head by SOCOG. Both of us were selected, my official title was “Event Controller”.
The group of Volunteers I was working with spent a number of weekends in IBM’s temporary Olympics offices set up in the Hilton Hotel Sydney. IBM provided the infrastructure for the results systems, but the Volunteers were ‘running’ them. Us Volunteers were there to learn how Athletics results were managed from start to finish, lane allocation to the final results. After we had leant how to do that (again), we then got to work on testing, and testing, and testing (did I mention testing?) the software which we were going to be using during the games.
So “Event Controller” (EC) what does that mean? From our point of view, there were 2 sorts of people who ‘ran’ an event, EC’s and Event Managers (EM). It’s probably easiest to explain it by the status’s which we set in the software:
1. (Can’t recall the actual status) Event prepared / drawn.
2. Checked-in – When all athletes were in the Call Room waiting to be brought to the main stadium
3. In Progress – The event was about to be run, or was in the process of being run, Swiss Timing providing the times/distances
4. Finished – All results were in, however weren’t ‘Official’ as the Athletic officials hadn’t confirmed it.
5. Official – All results had been approved by the Athletic officials
EM’s ‘created’ the events, so they set the event to status 1. They then processed the results (ie if it was more than 2 events, they would create the next round and allocate lanes); including printing them (the printer room is another story!).
EC’s, one in the Call Room, when getting the OK from an Official, would change the events status from 1-2. The Event Controller who sitting next to Swiss Timing for the event as the event was starting would open it and set the status to 3. Whilst the event was running and Swiss were giving us data, it would be 3, then when the event finished, we would set it to 4. The Athletics Official would come over, inspect the results and OK it. At that point, we would set the event to 5 and pass it back to the EM’s.
At the time, the software we were using was written in C and we were running it on NT infrastructure for stability (and double the computer / network infrastructure for redundancy). The software felt like it was being run from DOS. It was developed in Spain, so IBM staff were heading over there testing things, and software developers were coming out to Australia to help debug things along the way.
It was about this time that I took a position with Ernst & Young (who were sponsors of the Australian Olympic Team). One of my work conditions was that I had time off for the Olympics and Paralympics. On the first day of work, I had a call from an IBM employee who offered me a position with IBM working on the software for the Modern Pentathlon. After a big night of thinking I had to turn the offer down. One of the reasons being, aside from starting with a company that day, that the position wouldn’t exist beyond the Olympics, and I couldn’t afford that at that time.
Australian Olympic Team tryouts / Sydney Marathons
We used the Olympic Team tryouts and the Sydney Marathons as tests for the procedures and software. It was at this event we found out that our team had been doubled, because, due to OH&S, Volunteers could only work 1 ‘shift’ per day (so the whole team dynamic changed and we had to adapt quickly). Prior to each event we had time at the location to test redundancy of the systems, testing communications between the Volunteers (a closed loop hard wired system). We got the opportunity to work out most bugs. The Sydney Marathon was slightly different, as only 1 EC and 1 EM were required for testing, it was a Father and son affair. I was monitoring about 10 laptops (one for each time checkpoint) and the main computer which all results were being fed in to. It was a lot of juggling around, but the testing we had done in the IBM headquarters had prepared us and both IBM and we Volunteers were happy with what we had planned.
The Dress Rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony and the Opening Ceremony
As a volunteer I was given a ticket to the Dress Rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony. Getting in to the precinct, I was pulled aside by security because of something in my pocket. Turned out being a packet of chewing gum which had a foil wrapper as its packaging. My Father was able to walk through with a pocket knife on his key ring (work that out!). It was at this time I started to get frustrated with walk ways being on the ‘wrong side’. Ie, instead of keeping to the left, it was keeping to the right. Apparently had something to do with France (as all announcements were repeated in French. We got the opportunity to see what the Opening Ceremony would be like, right up to the lighting of the flame, when the announcement came over “And that concludes tonight’s Opening Ceremony”. Prior to that, we watched place holders for all the countries come out so the announcer could practice the pronunciations. That night gave the organisers the opportunity to iron out bugs etc. For our group, it was the lack of sound in our section. I remember it be spectacular.
The night of the Opening ceremony I headed home early (as almost everyone in Sydney did). Watching the television broadcast, as the flame was on its way down the Parramatta river, we quickly drove to a local point and watched it pass, then quickly came back to watch the ceremony. When the flame was lit, we went out the front of our house and were able to spot it there. That didn’t stop us heading out to Homebush that night and trying to get as close as we could to the flame (which was Bicentennial Park).
The first day, first event, 11 heats of 100M Mens… run in just over 1 hour (6 minutes from the start of one to the next). We found out that if Swiss had the wrong athletes numbers (which after 2 events they had 2 wrong numbers), things could go wrong. Add to that the time it takes to read the results in, I had one events screen open when the next event was starting. Unfortunately for me, that meant data was being sent to the wrong event, such as results to an event which hadn’t even started. It took us a while and a lot of hair pulling, but we got all the events sorted. Considering that the procedures were re-written that morning that just shows you how you can never test everything. After that, most things ran smoothly. I can only recall one other instance, which was with the walk events. Because the same key strokes used in one part of the application put ‘faults’ on competitors, I had marked one competitor as DQ just as they entered the main arena, quickly reverse it so they could complete the event and get a medal!
During the Olympics (we worked 1 of 2 sessions a day), all but 1 session I was running the Track Events. The 1 session, I was in the Call Room (and I can recall it was the night of the 4×400 Final when Marion Jones was running. The Team Manager had submitted a form listing the country as ‘United States of American‘ and had had to cross out Marion’s name once as he had misspelt it).
For those who complained about Cathy Freemans lane draw… well you can blame one of the EM’s…. who happens to be my Father. I was the one sitting at a computer that night monitoring the event, making sure all the results were valid.
I remember walking out to the area where Juan Antonio Samaranch sat during the opening ceremony to see Cathy Freeman being given her Gold Medal, then later that night, walking down across the track and standing on the Medal podium with an Aussie flag.
The Father and Son duo were back out for the final event of the Games, the Mens Marathon. We were there most of the day for the event. That night we stayed back and watched the Closing Ceremony. As we didn’t have seats (I did have the option of sitting in the room where I was doing the results), I wandered around the stadium for most of the night as I had an almost access all areas pass. I got to see close up Jimmy Barnes, Roy & HG. The guy who played flute in Men and Work, and possibly my most memorable (which I don’t have a photo of), Slim Dusty said G’day to me.
I went for a walk on the field later that night, I remember everything was just left there.. The lights were off, the flame was out, and no one was cleaning up.
A number of nights were spent at the Homebush Bay Brewery consuming some alcohol and talking about the days.
I reprised my role for the Paralympics. The only difference being, due to fewer Volunteers, OH&S was lifted and we worked 2 shifts a day, some days more than 12 hours. Ironically, most of the people left were the original team.
The Paralympics amazed me. The will and drive.. The heart is amazing, and beautiful. I recall 1 Athlete; it was late at night, a long distance event. They thought they had finished the event, but they had one lap to go. We had to disqualify them because they walked off the track, but they were following the winner around the track with their arm around them congratulating them.
I do recall, there was an event where 2 Athletes had the same time, yet one was given the Gold medal, and the other given a Silver. I was listening to a radio the following morning and heard people call up and complain about this. At the time, I didn’t want to give my name to the radio in a small chance I was out of place, but I called them up to advise that even though the scoreboard, TV and results were down to 1/100 of a second, the result was read in our systems down to 1/1000 of a second. I actually recally Swiss Timing letting my have a look at the picture. The detail they had you could see the 1/1000 of a second… it was literally 1-2 pixels, but they were able to zoom in that much!
The final event for the Paralympics finished in the morning. We had a few drinks, provided by IBM, and then headed to the Homebush Bay brewery where we had a few more. Whilst we were having drinks with IBM, we head what we thought were the Seekers performing. We went to a window where we could see the stage and couldn’t see them there. Then we heard a ‘skip’ in the recording. Unlike the Olympics, we had seats for this event. We got there early, a number of us in a ‘fun’ mood. I was the main conspirator, but I started a wave that went around the Stadium 6 times (the most I’d seen one go), the Orchestra pit even joined in! Towards the end of the night we headed out on to the field. I swapped my Volunteer jacket for a Mexican’s jacket. We didn’t speak the same language, but we communicated. Going by his size, I’m pretty sure he was a weight lifter! We then made our way off the field and slowly headed home.
From the ceremony, I remember seeing ‘The Whitlams’ perform a song about a man committing suicide because we got the Olympic games and another song with the ‘F’ word in it. Keith Urban performed “Grace of God” and “Cutterbilly”, when the Seekers got up, I wasn’t surprised to hear the same ‘skip’ I had heard earlier that day…. yes they were lip syncing!
Mostly of a night when there were only one or two events on and the communication links were relative quiet, even though there were about 20 people in on it, a couple of us decided to entertain ourselves, ironically, I seemed to be the main instigator. We created a series called “Who wants to be and Olympic’aire” (ala “Who Wants to be a Millionaire). The series was repeated for the Paralympics, that time called ‘Paralmypic’arie'” During the Paralympics, we went on joking about it. The funniest occurrence was when we were standing in a lift on our lunch break. We had gone to get coffees, myself a Cappuccino. We were in a lift which stopped on a level, someone got in and said “Is the lift going up or down”, my partner in crime asked “Do you want to take a 50/50”, at which point I started laughing which caused froth from my Cappuccino to go all over the person in front of me. My partner in crime added “Or do you want to foam a friend”. Obviously we all broke out in to laughter.
I’m going to add to this as more memories/stories come to my head. But the Olympics and Paralympics gave me the most amazing time of my life up to that point.