The Olympics

The Olympics

David McNabb & Pam Elgar

Sun 18 Sep

The Olympics – An Inside Story – Pam Elgar

Many of you will know that I have been involved in Hockey and that David and I have recently got back from the Rio Olympics.

David and I taking this service has come about because feedback to Angela and other Parish Council members has been that a lot of St Lukens have been following the Olympics and also the Para Olympics and would be interested in our experience.

So I am going to talk on how I got to go to Rio and what my role was plus share a bit of the detail of what that means.

To start with I play hockey and have done since I was 11 years old – I won’t tell you how old I am but I still play club hockey.  Over the years I have supported clubs I have played in, reps at school, senior club, reps at master’s level and played and managed in master’s teams for New Zealand. 

Alongside that I have served on the Board of Hockey New Zealand and as a result of that experience was asked to stand for the role of President of Oceania.  This role entitled me to sit on the International Hockey Board (FIH).  I have served as President of Oceania and Executive Board member for FIH since 2008.

In 2012 I was asked to be on the Jury of Appeal for the London Olympics and again for the Rio Olympics.

So what does that mean?  Each of the 28 Olympic sports for the summer Olympics agree the format of the game, the rules that will be applied and how the sport is going to be officiated at each games.

In the case of hockey we appoint Umpires, Video Umpires, Umpire Managers, Technical Officials which includes, TOs, Judges, Tournament Director and Jury of Appeal.   Umpires run the game, if there are referrals they go to Video Umpires, if a protest after the game happens it goes to Tournament Director for decision, if that is protested then it would come to the Jury of Appeal, if there was still a protest it would go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is in Switzerland.

There are 10 members of the Jury of Appeal appointed for Hockey for each Olympics and three members are required to sit in the event of a protest.  Neutrality is required hence the number of people appointed.  So far I have been to two Olympic Games and not yet had to serve on a Jury.  Which essentially has meant I have been to two Olympics and had my flights accommodation and meals paid for and done no work.

However I have two other roles at the Olympics – as President of Oceania it is my job to support my teams and in Rio that meant both the men’s and women’s teams for Australia and New Zealand.  I would watch all their games host VIPS where appropriate e.g. Julie …, NZOC members, Minister for Sport Jonathan Coleman etc.

Also as an Executive Board member I was required to be on duty in the Olympic Family lounge to meet and greet dignitaries from other sports, IOC members, and Country representatives.  The role was to host to share our strategy and the good things we are doing in hockey and in some cases explain the rules and what was happening on the field of play.

Additional to this we held three half day Board meetings during the Olympics and as the Chair of the HR and Governance panel and Honours and Awards panel I was presenting on three specific agenda items.

How does all this work – what happens before Olympics and what happens when you arrive?

Appointment – this happens between 6-9months out.  Accreditation information includes visas and any information required to ensure you are allowed entry into the country.

David and I received our accreditation and entry visas a month before we left.  When you arrive at the airport there is a separate queue where your details are verified it is put into this lanyard and you are processed quickly through customs.  Transport was arranged to get us to our accommodation.  Your accreditation must be worn at all times – and each accreditation says who you are and what areas you are able to access.  Mine gave me access to all athletes’ areas, press, family lounge, technical areas.  David’s was access to Olympic family lounge and seating only.

Next step Uniform – you may have noticed my attire – I along with three others headed out to the warehouse the following morning to be kitted out.  This is a huge warehouse filled with two changing areas you are given a number and when it is your turn you literally try on every piece of clothing confirm the fit (if things need altering – they are done right them and you pick them up on way out).   I am wearing the formal outfit but you also get a pair of sports shoes, three casual tops, two pairs of casual pants that have zip of shorts, a sport jacket, cap, three pairs of socks, casual bag, formal bag, drink bottle, raincoat, – the formal gear is what I am wearing plus skirt and another white shirt and scarf. And two belts one casual and one formal and a formal bag.

This can take up to three to four hours.  Age is respected in Rio – anybody in their 60s was immediately taken to the front of queue and processed first. 

Transportation – this was arranged from hotel to grounds bus left at 8.30am in the morning and returned at 10.45pm most nights.  Any other transport was by public transport on metro card which we were given and could use up to two trips per day or as an Executive Board member I was entitled to T3 transport.  This was access to cars at any venue and could go to any other venue or Olympic Hotel. 

Hockey was based at Deodoro and our hotel was in Copacabana which meant approximately 45-1hour trip each was dependent on traffic and the knowledge of your driver – it was not unusual to be lost and spend a lot more time getting from a-b than expected.

The hockey itself went like clockwork – the athletes were happy with the facilities, our volunteers after a rocky start developed into a well-oiled machine. The Black stick men and women’s team overall played well for the majority of the time – there was a second or two in the men’s final game that I would really like back.  And the women I would say whilst fourth again really should have medalled.  As each of you know supporting sports means you have the highs and the lows to contend with – I am extremely proud of the teams and athletes from New Zealand in all sports and also incredibly proud of all those other Kiwis contributing as officials, administrators as all of us are volunteers.

You will remember I am President of Oceania and that means I was to support the Australians, The Australians both men and women had an even tougher time and did not play to their potential.  Definitely a tough gig when the women met each other in the quarter final match and only one of my teams could go through.  Not being biased was difficult (if not impossible for me to achieve).

Medal ceremony – I was given the privilege of being part of the medal ceremony and gave out the Rio gift to the German women who got Bronze.  (The team who beat our girls out of a medal) The protocol for medal ceremonies are that International Olympic Committee members deliver medals and sports federation members deliver the Rio gift.  Barry Moister, IOC member and Gold medal hockey player for NZ delivered medals for Bronze.

Was there time for anything else?

Thankfully yes – not a lot but we did manage to secure an all pass on a few days – this wonderful accreditation gave us access to any other sport and Olympic Family area we wanted to get to.  David and I manage to see Rugby 7s notably the final with Fiji winning their first ever Olympic medal.  Simply awesome.  We also saw Gymnastics, Nick Willis and his bronze in 1500, Eric Murray and Hamish Bond win Gold for rowing, swimming, cycling, and beach volley ball.

We had purchased tickets to a range of events prior to leaving NZ and as you never know the draw timetable before you purchase tickets there were events I couldn’t attend due to other duties.   David did his best to get to everything he could and either sell or giveaway our spare tickets.  He managed to get to far more events then me.

So what’s it like from the inside – incredibly privileged – and certainly easier I suspect then being a member of the public.  A fantastic experience overall, however I also know that it is work and not a holiday for me as a Board member.  I was there to represent the International Hockey Federation and further our aims as well as to support our teams and country where I could.

The sixteen days from Opening to closing ceremony is a challenge and as I have said a real privilege where the most positive aspects sporting achievement and generosity in terms of the sheer volunteers contributing to an amazing event coupled with gaining a very real cultural experience really cannot be beat.  We were very fortunate to have many other kiwis including my sister and brother in law to share this time with.   I am very aware there are some challenges with organisations like the International Olympic Committee, the Size of the event, economic impact, environmentally impact and the legacy however I would still say if you get a chance to go – go it is an amazing experience.

The Olympics – a Supporters Story – David McNabb

Pam has shared an Insiders perspective on the Games.  I’ll share the perspective of someone who got to carry the bags as well as enjoy a range of sports.

I’ve watched a lot of hockey over the years – it started watching Pam play club hockey in Palmerston North over 30 years ago.  Now it involves watching international teams – a bit hard to still keep up the enthusiasm for those club games!

I’ve been very lucky to be able to follow Pam and hockey and see the world.  Getting to both the London and Rio Olympics.

People may be aware that I started my own athletics career rather late in life, with doing half ironman triathlons and running marathons.  So, while I didn’t get my own call up for the Olympics, my interest in sport has grown since I got more involved myself.

The Olympics.  28 sports and some 300 events over 2 weeks of near non-stop activity.  11,000 athletes from 207 countries participating.  70,000 volunteers involved. 

NZ – 4 gold, 5 silver, 9 bronze medals.  A total of 18 medals that is this country’s best medal haul ever.

And on the theme of positive patriotism and inspiration from our young people.  There was the press question of Lydia Ko: “When’s the last time you played for New Zealand?” Ko: “I always play for New Zealand.”

I was inspired by many of the events I was lucky enough to attend.  Seeing new talent burst onto the international scene.  NZ shotputters Tom Walsh and Jacko Gill appearing in the finals for the men’s shotput.  With Tom Walsh remaining competitive until the end and gaining the bronze medal.

I was also in the stadium to watch teenage pole vaulter Eliza McCartney lead the international field in its early stages.  She fair sparkled on the TV screen and quickly gained admirers.  So new to the sport and winning an Olympic bronze reminded me of the magic of sport and of the Games.

And then for those of us who have attempted to begin an athletic career in our twilight there was Nick Willis.  He defied what in 1500m terms is old age with a perfectly calculated run in the semis and the final to win bronze. Tactics still matter, for some of us that’s about all we’ve got to work with.

It almost goes without saying the thousands of hours of training and preparation that athletes have put in before they get to the Olympics.  The dedication is admirable. 

We all heard the build up to Rio with doom and gloom about the Zika virus, local violence, dangerous water, and low attendances.  Even fewer athletes due to many Russians being banned for doping.  Most of this didn’t prove true.  And it meant the Olympics were finally hosted in South America for the first time.

Like most people interested in sport I’ve been swept up by the rock stars of the Olympics – the number one example being Usain Bolt.  He is a phenomena.  Sitting in the athletics stadium the crowd would begin to erupt when he is spotted by a camera simply entering the stadium in his tracksuit before his race starts.  Then we he starts to prepare for a race the noise builds until he lines up for race and the cheers reach a new high.  Invariably the stadium is full because he is there so when quiet is called the start of the race you have this eerie silence of over 50,000 people being quiet.  Then the starter gun goes off and this is immediately swapped for a cacophony of sound as Usain strikes out, wearing the bright yellow of Jamaica and with his imposing height and build.  As the 100 or 200 metre race builds it looks like the competition might be challenging for the front when the Bolt starts powering ahead and has enough of a lead to seemingly pull up at the end.  The crowd goes wild!  Then Bolt does his first victory lap, then his second and so it goes on, the crowd unable to get enough of the Bolt experience.  The fact the he comes from one of the smaller countries in the world, and represents a disadvantaged black population, and that he seems to exude a beguiling natural humanness only adds to the mystique.

What are the Olympics supposed to be about?  Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

Some of the promising developments coming out of the Olympic movement include progressive steps such as the Gender equality is a top priority for the Olympic Movement. The two main aims are to make access to sport in general and the Olympic Games easier for female athletes, and to increase the number of women in sports administration and management.  Hockey is one of the leading sports with relatively equal numbers of women and men playing the sport – with equal emphasis on each gender.  And it has been moving toward gender equity in its administration.

One of the new features of this Olympics was the introduction of a Refugees Team under the Olympic Games own flag.  Sitting there at the opening ceremony when the athlete teams parade from around the world.  Your own country comes around and you’re off your feet giving a cheer and letting everyone know where your loyalty is based.  Then when the tiny handful of members of the Refugees team entered the stadium one of the biggest cheers of all was let loose by the whole crowd.  Everyone was on their feet.  For a moment you wondered if perhaps there really was a spirit of Olympism and that it had found its home for the Games.

Hockey has a claim to promoting sexuality rights with the advent of the first same sex married couple in the same team.  Kate Richardson-Walsh and Helen Richardson-Walsh are married, and played for the same gold-medal winning British women’s field hockey team. In a games that had more openly gay athletes than ever before, theirs was a moment that surely resonated with many around the world who don’t know the first thing about field hockey.

Kate said “To win an Olympic medal is special. To win an Olympic medal with your wife standing next to you … we will cherish this for the rest of our lives” (NZ Herald).

Those of us following the Paralympics have been enthralled by the display of excellent competition and of huge doses of joyfulness and support amongst participants.  Lots of family and supporters cheering from the sidelines.  Who hasn’t been moved and inspired by the site of people with disabilities giving everything they’ve got to their sport.  Perhaps thinking, well if they can do that, perhaps I can do something too!

No less inspired by our kiwi Paralympics team.  19 medals, 10th on the world medal table and first on the population based medal table – something dear to many Kiwi’s hearts when you factor the population size per gold medal gained.  Sophie Pascoe becoming our greatest Paralympian with her 9 golds out of a total of 15 medals across 3 Games. 

Liam Malone becoming a global star with his golds in the 200 and 400m sprints and a silver in the 100m – the latter on the anniversary of his mother’s birthday who had died from cancer four years ago.  Her death had inspired him to try running and he famously crowd sourced the $20,000 to buy the blades he would compete with.  Liam has become famous for his delightful turn of phrase and simple wisdom.  Here he is talking about what is a relatively short period of the last three years that he has been focused on preparing for the Paralympics: “First two years I really battled and battled and battled and wasn’t seeing much progress. It’s really just been in the past six months that I have got everything done and gone to the top. I feel like if you want to achieve something then you have to dedicate yourself to it and it really just comes down to mindset” (NZ Herald).

The Olympics and Paralympics are a curious mix of high aspiration and the best of human individual and team achievement.  Alongside that is the tawdry world of political intrigue, corporate sponsorship control, doping, cities and whole countries ridden with debt and money diverted from poorer communities, personal aggrandisement, and men behaving badly.

While it takes money and resource to get to the Games, some of the events were relatively low cost and it was great to see local Rio people attending, especially if a Brazilian was participating.  The Games are also a leveller, with a Jo average like myself getting to rub shoulders with some of the rich and famous.  Pam and I were in the Olympic Family area at the rowing cheering the Kiwi’s when we noticed Princess Anne a few rows behind and so couldn’t resist getting her in a background photo shot alleging she was photobombing us!  We also shared an Olympic car with a guy who turned out to be Sir Steve Redgrave a past British rower and one of the most famous Olympians of all time.  The stream of people coming up to him to get a photo should have been a clue!

The scriptures today pick up the theme of sport and the challenges of being an athlete.  I love the phrase from the Hebrews text: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (12:1).  As much as the world of sport is about individual and team performances, you never work alone.  Sport is full of many wonderful people, mostly volunteers who put their heart and soul into their sport community.  The people that count are the ones who help us train and cheers us on, they include those who were the first to help us on our way and are no longer with us physically but are part of that great cloud of witnesses who will see us through to the end.  Though we may not always hear the full roar of the crowd, we are never alone.