At last week’s Diving test event in the Aquatics Centre, the 18th FINA Visa Diving World Cup, I learnt plenty about tucks, pikes and forward somersaults – but that wasn’t why I was there.
I stood transfixed and speechless at my first sight inside Zaha Hadid’s remarkable building – but that wasn’t the point either.
I was in awe of the skills of the Chinese medal winners and Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield’s plucky attempts to catch them – but I’m happy to leave all that to my colleagues in the Sport Department and Team GB.
The actual reason for my visit was to take a careful look at the Victory Ceremonies – not who won the medals, but every single detail of these were planned, staged, produced and delivered.
There will be over 800 Victory Ceremonies at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in a few months' time. Each and every athlete who rises to the podium will have worked tirelessly for years and years to realise this very moment – and for them, and for the millions watching, it has to be just right.
Right now our medals are being struck by the Royal Mint in South Wales. Our podia, designed by students from the Royal College of Art, are being constructed. The costumes for athlete escorts and medal bearers are being tailored. All 205 national anthems have been recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the flowers for every medal winner are in British fields waiting for spring. Here at Three Mills Studios we’ve had hundreds of volunteers auditioning to take on the role of medal and flower bearers and athlete escorts.
So all the components of sublime Victory Ceremonies are on the way – but just like the athletes, perfection doesn’t come without practice and training. With this in mind, our small full-time Victory Ceremonies team used the test event to hone their skills and test out the whys and wherefores.
They got into the venue early and walked the course over and over again. They tested, checked and double-checked the procedures right down to every cue and every step.
They found ways to ensure the right flags would be used, the right way up and with the right anthem playing, and then they found ways to double check it.
They worked out how to communicate with athletes and presenters who might be nervous and have little English.
And long before the real Olympic and Paralympic medals, uniforms and protocols are fully in place, they checked every detail of what they wear, how they walk and how they look.
And how did it go? Well for the athletes and spectators I hope all was exactly as they would want – but we learnt plenty. We learnt that we need to keep the over-eager TV camera operator far enough away so that he doesn’t cross paths with the medal bearer. We learnt that our volunteer athlete escorts shouldn’t wave to friends in the crowd, even when no-one is looking.
Most of all, we learnt that in our waiting area which doubles as a huge shower cubicle we need to turn off the automatic shower systems – just 20 seconds before she walked on to lead a Ceremony, one of our most elegant medal bearers enjoyed a thorough drenching!
Just like the athletes, we’re taking lots of practice and we need a little luck. And as the great golfer Gary Player once said, 'The more I practice, the luckier I get.'