While I began my bid for gold much later in life, my competitive spirit, ruthless determination and single-minded focus enabled me to attend one Winter Olympics, two Summer Olympics, two Paralympics and one Commonwealth Games.
As with all elite athletes, though, the rigorous training, constant traveling, early mornings, all that adrenalin, the shouting, cheering and back-to-back Games appearances have taken their toll on my body, so after six years of intense Olympic attendance, I reluctantly announced my retirement. I’ve since been an armchair spectator, watching subsequent Olympics from the comfort of my own lounge.
I ended up working as an administration assistant with the American broadcasters CBS, based at the International Broadcasting Centre. I was officially a gofer - go for this, go for that. It was my first relay event.
The best Games ever
Twelve years ago, I was sitting seven rows from the front arena at the Sydney Olympic Games, watching the spectacular Opening Ceremony unfold on centre stage.
It was the first time I’d attended such a major sporting event and was fortunate to be involved in this unique opportunity in my own backyard.
Over the next two weeks, I cheered with the crowd at the basketball, hockey, swimming, diving and equestrian competitions. I saw Cathy Freeman win the gold medal in the 400m track event; applauded wildly at Australia’s first synchronised diving medal and screamed myself hoarse as Susie O’Neill, Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett blitzed the competition in the swimming pool. It was all in a (long) day’s work.
Yes, I was paid to attend the Olympics - and it was my best job ever.
I worked as a coach escort on a sponsor hospitality program, ferrying guests to and from Olympic events each day - although we’d been repeatedly warned during the recruitment process there was no guarantee of entry to events, designed to discourage freeloaders. It was a paid job, after all.
Despite the anticipated bottlenecks and projected transport delays, the Games ran smoothly, everyone was infectiously friendly and there was extraordinary support for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games; it’s true that Australians love their sport – and a big party.
“Err… the village is a non-smoking zone,” I pointed out on the first day of my volunteer duties.
The team officials looked at me incredulously, cigarettes poised before expectant lips.
“Eh, we’re Greek. You don’t expect us not to smoke for 11 days!”
They inhaled dismissively, adding to the dense cloud spreading lazily across the tiny office. I eased open a window a fraction in a fruitless attempt to breathe in fresh air. The incessant rain had prevented us from opening windows or doors for three consecutive days and I reluctantly became a passive smoker, despite the well-advertised No Smoking policy throughout the site.
I soon discovered, though, that all southern European and Asian team officials were brazenly ignoring this policy, too. I don’t think the authorities ever managed to enforce this rule.
Long before I scored the paid Olympics gig, I successfully applied to work as a volunteer at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games and was placed with the Greek Paralympic team at the Athletes Village. I took up the baton in my second administrative relay event.
Four years later, the Olympics returned to their homeland; and so did I.
My hardest job ever
Athens 2004: I worked an assistant merchandising manager at the Taekwondo venue, overseeing the operations of two official Olympic retail outlets. That was the toughest ultra-marathon I’ve ever experienced! In the first week of operations I worked from 6am through to about 2am, slept for two hours, and was back at work at 6am. It remains a long-standing Olympic record. Click here to read the related blog.
My contract included the Athens 2004 Paralympics, working as a sales supervisor at the Olympic Stadium. This role was less demanding and my hours were much more manageable. In fact, I had one day off, so I bought an all-day ticket and attended several events at the Olympic site. In contrast to Sydney, the Athens Paralympics were sadly not as well supported by the locals.
My swan song
“Are you here for crowd control?”
“Err… no,” I replied. “I’m here to get a coffee.”
It’s amazing how strangers come up and talk to you when you’re wearing a distinctive volunteer’s uniform; even while standing in a queue at a coffee shop.
My final event was the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games. It was my second volunteer role, this time as a News Service Reporter, based at the weightlifting venue.
My job was to write up the results of each event. Fortunately, we had a sports specialist on hand who explained the technical details of the Snatch and Clean and Jerk lifts; my logical (mathematical) brain quickly grasped the implications of weights lifted according to bodyweight category and I spent hours analysing competitors and results with the specialist! I loved it.
So am I tempted to come out of retirement? Is a comeback possible?
Hmm, the 2018 Commonwealth Games are just down the road on the Gold Coast - that gives me six years to get back into peak physical condition…
In the meantime, let the London Games begin!
Are you an Olympics junkie? Will you be watching the Games on TV?