Achieving personal best(s) through the Olympic movement

As the curtain falls on a happy and glorious Olympic Games in the city of London, one cannot help but marvel at the spirit of the Games and its ability to unite people across cultures, across geographies and across generations. Not only did London revel and embrace the Olympic spirit and the power of sport, the entire nation seemed to embrace the world.

London 2012 brought together 11,000 athletes from 204 national Olympic committees that competed in the greatest show on Earth. Behind the scenes, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) assembled a legion of 70,000 GamesMaker volunteers to help staff and contractors to make it all happen. I was lucky enough to be one of those 70,000 dressed in khaki, purple and red for the majority of the last two weeks.

Four years ago, I was delighted to be accepted to the University of Cambridge for a Master’s course and subsequently a PhD degree. But little did I know, as timing would have it, pursuing a graduate programme has also allowed me to follow a life-time passion for sport and be a volunteer at three consecutive Olympiads starting with Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010 and ending as a GameMaker for London 2012.

Beijing had the razzle-dazzle, Vancouver had my hometown bias (being a Canadian), but London had my personal best. I worked hard to complete my Cambridge degree a month early so that I could focus on London 2012 and give my whole-hearted commitment for the two weeks. I worked with a fantastic team of volunteers at my home venue – the Basketball Arena in Stratford. My fellow GamesMakers came from all walks of life, including maths teachers, probation officers and people who re-located for two weeks from India and Japan just to be present for the Games. Outside of my own workforce team, I was constantly amazed and appreciative of the thousands of fellow GamesMakers. As I entered the Olympic Park for every morning shift, or left late at night for every night shift, I was warmly greeted by other GamesMakers who wished me a fantastic day ahead or bid me a safe journey home. And as I watched as a common spectator for events that I attended with my family, the friendliness of the event services team always made me smile.

Over 16 days of magnificent sport, 44 new world records were set in London along with 117 new Olympic records. But how can we possibly count the number of friendly smiles being exchanged? Photos taken? Or conversations that were started by random strangers sharing the latest results and medal wins on buses, tubes and trains? For some athletes, they may have trained a lifetime for this moment. For some senior members of the London Organising Committee, the Games represent over a decade-worth of stewardship and hard work. But taken together, the number of man-hours applied by the 70,000 GamesMakers in a two-year long application process, including training sessions, venue sessions, test events and travel time, would stand on its own merit. Congratulations to the athletes who achieved personal bests at these London Games – you sure inspired a cadence of personal bests from your support team.

Volunteering for the Olympic movement has truly been one of my most memorable and awesome experiences. It is at times difficult being cheerful for eight-hour shifts or quickly learning new skills and adapting to different roles from everyday work. But whatever the challenge, it is easily amended by good preparation and a heap of enthusiasm. Every Olympic volunteer I have ever met and worked with has concluded that if the stars align and opportunity arises again, they would willingly get involved with the next Games. So bring it on Sochi and Rio – how many repeat GamesMakers will show up on your streets? And to the citizens of Russia and Brazil – apply when you can, because when you get involved, you will happily pinch yourself the day it starts and it all becomes real…

Thank you London 2012 – You have inspired generations.

*Julia Fan Li  [2008] is completing a PhD in technology management in the Department of Engineering. Her research interests focus on financing global health and she is a continuous supporter of the Olympic ideals of friendship, solidarity and fair play through sport.

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