Volunteer army keeping the Games moving

by Beatrice Debut, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jul 26 2012 02:59 PM | Updated as of Jul 26 2012 10:59 PM

LONDON - A 70,000-strong volunteer army from across the globe is helping to put on the 2012 Olympics, giving up their free time or holidays in return for a part in the biggest show on Earth.

Teachers, lawyers and students are among the "Games Makers" eagerly taking a role in London's Olympic adventure and relishing the chance to rub shoulders with global sporting superstars.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I would probably be dead when the Olympics come here again," said Sophie Dickson, 25.

The dental assistant is splitting her time between her job at private clinics in Sussex, southeast England, and the dentist's surgery in the Athletes' Village on the Olympic Park.

Dickson is wearing the volunteers' easily recognisable uniform of a fuschia and orange polo shirt with beige trousers -- an umbrella is also among the "Games Makers" equipment, in expectation of some traditional London rain.

"I am going to miss Kim Collins, unfortunately," she said of the former 100 metres world champion, who was due to pop in to the clinic just as she rushed to the station after seven-hour shift.

But she had a bigger star in her sights -- "hopefully Usain Bolt will pop in," she said.

Lynne Wright, a technical manager for a fragrance company and a big sports fan, has given up two weeks' holiday -- "almost half of my annual leave" -- to help out with transport in the athletes' village.

While she is working for free to help get the athletes around the huge site, her own journey to and from the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, from her home outside the capital comes at a price.

The two-hour train journey each way, plus expenses, "will cost me about £1,000 ($1,550, 1,280 euros)", she said -- although she does not doubt that it's all worth it.

The 70,000 volunteers at the Olympics and the Paralympics which follow are drawn from 70 countries and were whittled down from 250,000 who applied.

They receive a free travel pass for the duration of the Games, but it only covers them up to the London boundary.

Other volunteers are spending several nights camping on the edge of the Olympic Park, to get round the costly and delay-prone transport system.

Physical education teacher Ros Cramp is among those spending a few nights under canvas. Her pupils are begging her to bring back some autographs.

"But I won't ask for any autographs. That would be impolite," said Cramp, who is working as part of the service team supporting officials -- and in any case, she probably won't be getting close enough to the athletes to ask.

However, Rob Williams, who is helping out the swimmers at the Aquatics Centre, certainly will.

The Canadian lawyer has already enjoyed watching 16-time American Olympic medallist Michael Phelps in training.

"He is an institution," said Williams, who himself boasts a swimmer's physique.

"You have to be calm. You have to help the whole team and not just one person," he said. "But it's great to see my heroes."

Several lifeguards, also volunteers, are posted around the edge of the pool, closely watching the Chinese synchronised swimming team in training.

Among the volunteers is geography student Tom Hunt.

"I don't know why they need lifeguards," he admitted, "but it's great to be here".

Sam Kendall, a teacher, has been posted to help the Ugandan team in the athletes' village.

"If they want to tour London, if some people want to buy a camera, if they are looking for a venue, I can help," she said.

On Wednesday, she got to stand in the shoes of the athletes, by carrying a flag during the final rehearsal for the opening ceremony.

"You give a lot, but you get a lot back," she said.


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