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London Olympics, 2012: My Story

September 2, 2012

Now that the Paralympics are well under way, it’s about time I wrote this blog post!

Just to state from the outset…this post is a completely personal, self-indulgent one and nowt to do with my business or my photography! It’s also going to show how poor I am at actually writing blogs rather than just filling them with photos!! 😉

I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work at the Stratford Olympic Park. It’s an experience that I am unlikely to forget and I wanted to write this post so that friends and family could read about all of it. I’ve also found writing to be quite therapeutic 🙂 (I warn you though, it’s a long one – still with plenty of pics though!)

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

I worked at the Olympic Park for three weeks; every single day except two! (Although I actually spent one of those days in the Park – as a tourist!) I worked  a varied shift pattern, including overnights, which allowed me to experience the Park at many different times of day leading up to and during the games. During the first week I was able to walk through the Park (although many of the smaller paths were out-of-bounds) while it was empty, experiencing it’s vastness and the grandeur of the stadiums. At this point I didn’t realise the power of the Park nor the Olympic fever itself. Sure I was honoured to be one of the ones selected to work there and I thought it would be great working experience for my CV but I hadn’t realised that it would feel so much more than that!

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

In the Transmission Suite where I worked, we were each paired up with a shift buddy. My shift buddy (who I fondly referred to as Shift Sister while singing my own theme tune!) was Corinne and we become pretty much inseparable the whole time, meeting for lunch before or after our shift, floating round the Park together or simply shopping in Westfield 🙂 It sounds ridiculous now that I write about it but by the middle of the second week it became hard to leave the Park (and part from my Shift Sister) when my working day came to an end. 🙂 It was such a great working environment to be in.

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

Once the Park was open to the public, it took on a completely different feel. The atmosphere throughout the park was incredible, especially when Team GB really started to shine (along with the weather). It was such a happy, uplifting and friendly place to work. People were helpful & polite to one another (a rare thing found in southern England these days). The camaraderie between everyone made a pleasant change to the usual moans and groans of a normal working day.

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

The park within the Park had been designed beautifully; with the flowers simulating that of a wild English country garden (I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of photos!). From within luscious Park Live you could view the main events on the big screen and it was electric! From here I watched Chris Hoy win the Men’s Keirin and words cannot describe it. I’m sure it was just a fraction of what was experienced within the Velodrome itself! During the athletics, the roars of the crowd from inside the stadium travelled round the Park, leaving the hairs on your arm standing on end. This is when I realised how addictive the Park had become!

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

For me, the place had the feel, excitement and spirit of Disney!! 🙂 ( and I luuurve Disney!) All it was missing was the daytime and evening parades! Having said that, there were Coca Cola dancers/entertainers floating round the Park as well as the Olympic Mascot, so that was quite similar!!

Also like Disney, there was the strong lure of pin trading. Everyone seemed to slowly get reeled in to this little obsession, even the top management peeps; proudly parading their increasing collection on their lanyards. However, this made walking through the Park a very slow process. If you weren’t being stopped by people asking for you to take their photograph (I could have become very rich if only I had charged for my services!) you were being stopped for pin trading negotiations!

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

A ‘perk’ of shift work is that I was able to experience the Park at night, with some of my shifts finishing at 2330. The stadiums looked magical lit up at night although the Park was extremely eerie. Maybe this is why I don’t have many decent night shots – I was a bit of a chicken when it came to walking around in the dark!

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

As I mentioned, I spent one of my two days off as a tourist. I was lucky enough to have been given 2 Basketball tickets ( a perk of the job). I decided to give these two tickets to my parents. So I spent the day with them, showing them the wonderful sights of the Olympic Park and getting them caught up in the Olympic fever. I think I walked about 6 miles that day, covering every inch of the site!

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

I worked at the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) working for the Host Broadcaster (OBS) which basically meant that I was part of a team of people responsible for making sure that the rest of the World received several Olympic feeds 24 hours a day, via satellite and fibre network. Pretty geeky really!

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

The IBC and MPC (Media & Press Centre) were situated at the North side of the Park, by the Hockey stadium (Riverside Arena) and Beat Box (that red angular box construction that was probably responsible for about 50 of my photographs!). We had our own village which, I think, made it feel like working at Center Parcs (not that I’ve ever worked there!!). We had our own canteen, bars, cafe’s (with brownies to die for!) and McDonalds, as well as free hairdressers, massage parlour, nail beauticians and post office. There was also the opportunity to watch many of the Olympic events in our own small 3D cinema. Fantastic when it came to the men’s gymnastics 😉

The IBC itself was a massive hanger which was large enough to house 5 jumbo jets, apparently! It didn’t house a single jumbo jet in this instance, but instead was a temporary home for many international broadcasters including Sky New Zealand, BBC, NBC, KBS (Korean), Foxtel (Australian) to name just a handful!

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

Pretty much everyone in the IBC village wore an OBS uniform which looked similar to anyone who worked at Disney, McDonald’s or perhaps a UPS deliveryman: Polo Shirt, Khaki trousers and baseball cap. It was like being part of some elite club and no matter where you were (on the tube, train, or some random London pub!) if you saw someone in the same uniform a knowing nod was exchanged.

Although I wasn’t on shift for the Opening Ceremony (the Park went into lockdown until 1am and I was due in the next day at 0600, so I watched this from the comfort of my sofa!), I was on shift for the Closing Ceremony. I thought the Olympics in general had been an emotionally draining time (It’s hard not to become wrapped up in the Olympian stories, the victories and the losses when you are watching it 24/7) but this final shift was a VERY tearful one! Finished off with a fantastic wrap party!

The wrap party was being held on the 5th floor of the IBC hanger. A place we had never ventured to! The team made their way up there once we had all clocked off, probably about 1am. We excitedly stepped out of the lift into what seemed like a full-blown night club! A bar, stage and band had been set up in place of what I assume had been open plan offices and the place was pumping! I couldn’t help but feel that this ‘club’ had been here the whole time and while many of us had been working hard downstairs, this floor had been filled with clubbers every night until the early hours! That thought still makes me giggle! 🙂

A well needed party to finish off a fabulous 3 weeks. I politely slipped away early, at 4am! 🙂

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

My time at the Olympic Park was like living in a bubble. I can officially admit that this was a love affair! I drank, ate, slept, worked and played Olympics for 3 weeks solid. I had no exposure to anything else. There wasn’t time for anything else! I worked in a relatively small department along side a great team of people, sharing one of the most amazing experiences that I’m going to cherish for ever. So the only way I can sum up my time there and the withdrawal symptoms experienced afterwards, is it’s like returning home after THE BEST SUMMER CAMP EVER (after experiencing the best holiday romance ever!)

Thank you Olympic Park. I will miss you. You have given me the time of my life. xx

Nikki Waterlow Photography: Olympics 2012

Note: The majority of these photographs were taken with my Panasonic Lumix TZ20

One Comment leave one →
  1. Geoff Mann permalink
    September 3, 2012 4:46 pm

    Nikki, Great read and you have done a great job with the photos. It is very refreshing for a tired old veteran of 11 Olympics to see that there is still a spark from those involved for the first time! there is hope for the future. We do so many of these big events that they all seem to just blend in and no one takes much notice anymore.
    I hope you have the opportunity to experience many more and have as much fun.

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