Four years ago, I was a volunteer for the London Olympics. In my childhood dreams I was a competitor, but as with almost everyone reality soon intruded on that ambition.
Therefore when London won the bid back in 2005 my hope was to somehow be part of it, and when the call went out for ordinary people to assist, I signed up along with a couple of million others. By the time the Games were upon us that number had shrunk massively, but the volunteer numbers were still astounding, the involvement still impressive.
A home Olympics is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I run a small business, I have some degree of flexibility. But it was an investment, a commitment and any other term you care to choose for deciding to give up my time to help. I’m not noble, I’m not a selfless saint – I wanted to be part of it.
I was assigned to the rate card team, and the months before the Games began was given over to training sessions as to what was expected, and a dawning realisation that this was real. Turning up to a training session hideously hungover from watching Manchester City beating United on their way to THAT last minute title win may not have been my finest moment, but an awareness of the scale of what was happening was never far away.
I worked in the Olympic Village and learnt a few valuable lessons. That only a minority of the athletes present win medals was part of it, that the excitement at seeing those early medallists was shared by all those there to compete was startling. That the openness of the athletes talking to those of us there to help was simply joyous.
There are so many things I could tell you. The member of the Irish team telling me that since it was unlikely they would ever host a Games meant that as far as they were concerned this was their home event was touching. That he proceeded to talk about how the love from the British crowd for our family across the water had been felt by the whole Irish team nearly made me weep.
Perhaps I could tell you the downsides. But the truth is there were so few. In the end I saw barely any sporting action. But I was part of the Olympics. I was a small part of making it happen.
As I finished my last shift, as I went to Stratford station, a sign said “Rio, this way, 2016”. Beautiful.
People of Brazil, you will have three weeks where you are the centre of the world. It is not real life, and real life cannot be eclipsed or pushed aside by a sporting occasion. But I envy you. We had it four years ago, and it was extraordinary. It is now your turn, your privilege. Enjoy it. Just…enjoy it. It really is that special.