Hugs, happiness and a host of golden Olympic volunteer memories

The hours were brutal, the North Koreans unfriendly, but as these Games Makers reveal, London 2012 was the time of their lives


By Jennifer Lipman and Anna Sheinman, August 16, 2012
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Andy Green on duty at the BMX bike track in the Olympic Park. “There were no negatives — there was happiness all over the event,” he says

Andy Green on duty at the BMX bike track in the Olympic Park. “There were no negatives — there was happiness all over the event,” he says

Miranda Salter, aged 49, from Hendon, was a performer at the opening and closing ceremonies
"Danny Boyle signed my drumsticks. He gave a speech before the opening ceremony. He said: “In 10 minutes we are going live to the world”. Then he came to speak to some of the performers. I asked for an autograph, and the drumsticks were the only thing I had for him to sign.
"I have always done a lot of volunteering and Jewish youth work, so this was a natural step. I couldn’t believe it when I found out I was one of the 950 drummers. Rehearsals were a big commitment, sometimes 10 hours long and very tiring, but nobody moaned. We were all just thrilled to be part of something with a world-wide impact, part of history. And I’ve made some great friends as well."

Ysabella Hawkings, 23, from north London, works for Weizmann UK. She was a first aider at the hockey
"When we won the bid I had no interest in the Games whatsoever. I thought: “Oh great, London is going to be a nightmare”. But I’m also a bit of a glutton for punishment and I knew I’d kick myself if I didn’t take the opportunity.
"I think there’s only been about one day in the past 17 when I wasn’t working or volunteering. I’m exhausted but it was definitely worth it. I was doing first aid for the spectators, handing out paracetemol and things like that. The atmosphere was great. People were so chirpy and happy and helpful. I hoped that was how it would be but you never know with the reputation of London. They played the national anthem before every match, and the first time I heard it, it gave me goosebumps.
"I volunteer a lot anyway, at places like Limmud, but it’s definitely made me think about applying for similar events in the future. Next, though, I’m volunteering at the ExCel Centre for the Paralympic Games so I’m still in the bubble."

Rachelle Michaels, 43, from Stanmore, works in PR. She was on the media relations team at the archery at Lord’s cricket ground
"We marked out positions for the photographers where they could take photos while the competition was going on, so they wouldn’t get in the way — or get hit by the arrows. You had to be very organised and we were on our feet, in the action, for six or seven hours at a time.
"We were one of only two competitions that started on the morning of the opening ceremony. They expected about 80 photographers, we had about 130 turn up, and then suddenly Princess Anne arrived and the photographs started snapping her. That was the craziest day.
"It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, but I just thought, it’s on my doorstep. I think I will do more volunteering now. If you can make a difference doing something over a week, you can do an awful lot more if you get stuck in longer term. A disabled man dropped his notebook below the stand and I went under the tarpaulin and found it — I got the biggest hug. It was a very good reminder that little things matter."

Andy Green, 68, from Buckhurst Hill, was on the press operations team
"Now I have seen the two greatest sporting events ever held in Britain, as I went to see England win the World Cup in 1966. I have always been a sportsman myself, as a cricketer, Wingate and Maccabi footballer. I saw all the Team GB golds at the velodrome. There was just the most amazing atmosphere. I saw the BMX contest from the race area. I knew nothing about BMX — how brave those riders are.
"There were no negatives — there was happiness all over the event. I hope it will encourage more children to take up sport. My best times at school were playing sport, that’s where it all begins. I met many of my life-long friends on the field of play."

Charlotte Leigh enjoyed the Israel welcome ceremony

Charlotte Leigh enjoyed the Israel welcome ceremony

Charlotte Leigh, 23, from Edgware, is a dentist. She was part of the dental team in the Athletes Village
"I knew that London was going to put on a great display and what better way to see it than to be involved. In the Village I got to see the athletes doing their everyday activities — going to lunch, going to the gym, shopping. There were so many famous faces wandering around that sometimes it was hard to know where to look. I met quite a lot of athletes, including Mo Farah and Nicola Adams. And the Team Israel welcome ceremony was great.
"Everyone was unbelievably friendly and even on the Tube people were smiling and interacting. I didn’t have one journey from Edgware to Stratford where at least one person didn’t stop me and ask me about the Games.
"As soon as it started everyone suddenly got a bit jealous of my volunteering and wanted a piece of the action. I would love to be involved with Rio 2016. I learnt what London can do when we all work together."

Peter Altman, 70, from Bricket Wood, was a venue entry team member
"I must have met over 1,000 people while I was doing security at the Olympic Park and Wembley Stadium. Working on the X-ray belt was the best bit, I got to interact with visitors from all over the world. I tried to be friendly and make a few jokes: “Would you like your coat cleaned and pressed as it goes through the X-ray machine, madam?” On one occasion I asked whether a visitor had any liquids and she replied: “Some perfume”. I said: “How much?” and she responded: “£75”.
"Some shifts started at 6.30am, and it took me two hours to get to Stratford. On the commute people would smile when they recognised the Games Maker uniform. One group of young girls were so excited by it, I ended up surrounded by 20 of them (something which doesn’t happen to me very much any more) while they took photos."

Brian Levin, 37, from Finchley, works in finance. He was a family assistant
"About six weeks before the Olympics I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I was very lucky and needed just one dose of chemotherapy. But I pulled out of volunteering because I didn’t know how I would feel. I had the chemo and after two weeks I was watching the Olympics. I thought: “Well, I’m feeling OK-ish, and this is something I really want to do”. So I phoned and asked if there was any chance I could get back on. I ended up doing two full days and a little bit on the side. I think if I hadn’t got involved I’d be very frustrated and always look back at the Olympics with a tinge of sadness.
"I looked after the IOC representatives. I went to all the different venues, driving the Olympic BMWs around. One day I drove round the head of the New Zealand Olympic committee and we went out to Eton Dorney lake where they had someone in a rowing final. It was almost like being part of their team, because obviously you get involved. Some people had good experiences, some people didn’t. If you spent the day with the North Korean delegation, apparently they weren’t as friendly to be with and treated you were more like a servant.
"Just giving back to the community is great. The country was very apprehensive and more focused on the negatives, like the cost and the transport. You could almost see the transformation during the Games and that’s what I wanted to help add to."

Michael Sadan, 26, from east London, is a syndication sales manager for the Financial Times. He was a performer at the opening ceremony
"Having lived in east London all my life, I wanted to be part of the Olympic experience in my home town. I went to auditions with hundreds of others and never thought in a million years that I would be selected. We spent more than 150 hours rehearsing, a lot of it the derelict Ford Motors plant in Dagenham, and then we moved into the Olympic Stadium in May. I was cast as an industrial revolution worker — think 1850s coal miner. I had to learn a dance routine — very out of my comfort zone — and how to move the props to change the whole dynamic of the stage.
"The only negatives were the long days and early starts — I drank lots of coffee. But it was probably the best thing I’ve ever done. It was such a great feeling stepping out in front of 80,000 people, and in front of billions on TV.
"Putting in so much unpaid time and effort is something I had not considered doing before. But it felt good to give something back. My next aim is Rio 2016."

Nadia Dellal, aged 27, from London, was a volunteer with the hospitality team at Canada House.
I became a dual-citizen of the UK and Canada last year. Canada House was the “home away from home” for the athletes and their families outside the Olympic Village. It was an oasis of calm, somewhere where everyone could relax and snack on Canadian foods and beer.
I met most of Team Canada's athletes, including the judo, fencing, track and field, beach volleyball and wrestling teams. Many of them were a similar age to the volunteers, so we could talk easily. I also met parents and siblings - I was so touched by the stories of their journeys from their child getting on the diving platform for the first time, all the way to the Olympics. Canada House hosted 18 medal ceremonies, and I also attended many of these. At night, it transformed into a party venue, definitely helped by the free bar that guests could enjoy until late. As volunteers, we went out with the athletes to various bars and nightclubs in and around Covent Garden.

Greg Ruback, aged 34, from Finchley, was a transport driver
My four year-old son Coby was very excited that Daddy was “in the Olympics”. I applied almost two years ago, and have spent the last two weeks driving officials between venues and hotels.
I drove all sorts of people. The Minister of Sport for Mozambique, Locog officials, and IOC delegates from all over the world. The IOC delegate from Algeria and his wife were very friendly. He had last been in London in the 70s so I was almost acting as tour guide, showing him the sites of central London.
The shifts were nine or ten hours long, and sometimes I went straight from the end of my day working as a lawyer at Warner Bros. to the car depot and worked until the early hours. I’m really lucky that my company have a well established corporate responsibility programme, they were really keen on me volunteering, and gave me volunteer leave for my time away from the office. It was great to do something so different from my day job and meet people from so many different cultures.

Jonny Bunt, aged 27, from Finchley, was a London ambassador mentor based at Spitalfields, East London
I’m a consultant at BT and we were offered the opportunity to get involved with the Olympics, directing tourists and supporting young ambassadors. As someone who is sports-mad, loves to work with young people and was keen to represent London, I jumped at the chance.
The closest we got to the action was watching the games on a big screen - however we did meet loads of athletes who were out shopping or experiencing London. The best part of the experience was seeing the kids in action, especially when they were getting groups of tourists and city workers excited about the games. The Conga-line we started after Victoria Pendleton’s gold medal will live long in my memory.
On the middle Sunday two Spanish athletes asked for directions. I asked them what they competed in and one explained that the previous night he had lost to Mo Farah in the 10,000m. After consoling him and telling him how much I admired endurance athletes I told him it was a 10 minute walk. His response was to ask if there was a bus.
It felt and still feels like a genuine honour… I’m so glad we were involved and that I can say that when London had the Games I was part of it. I hope to add more events like this to the community based volunteering I usually do and I want to keep in touch with the young people who I mentored.

Last updated: 5:16pm, August 16 2012