Keeping it all on track the name of the Olympic Games

By Michael Brown

Athletes will have plenty of distractions at the village, including a cinema, computer games and a bar - plus the other competitors. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Athletes will have plenty of distractions at the village, including a cinema, computer games and a bar - plus the other competitors. Photo / Brett Phibbs

In 1920, New Zealand sent two runners, a rower and a swimmer to the Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.

The Games were much smaller then, just over 2600 athletes representing 29 countries, and it was the first time a team representing New Zealand was sent - previously our athletes competed for Australasia.

It was a straightforward exercise getting them there, even in an era before modern travel but it's vastly different now.

The Olympics have expanded into a global phenomenon and more than 10,000 competitors from 205 nations will descend on London.

With a team of 185, New Zealand will be the 17th-largest country in terms of competitors - the United States will have 530 - and one of the most difficult to co-ordinate with a full rowing team in Eton Dorney, a full sailing team in Weymouth and men's and women's football sides playing throughout England.

It's been a major logistical exercise to make sure everything runs seamlessly for the athletes, 130 support staff and New Zealand Olympic Committee employees.

"If there were any surprises for athletes, we have failed," says chef de mission Dave Currie. "We've been doing this for a while and get enough time to organise this."

Currie has been doing it longer than most. He's been chef de mission of New Zealand Olympic and Commonwealth teams since 2002 and will step aside after the Games.

That's when planning for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro needs to start.

The NZOC will spend $6 million on the London Olympics, including getting athletes and their equipment to London and home again and shipping a 12m container from Auckland to set up in the athletes village.

"Our role is clear," Currie says. "We must create and maintain a high-performance environment. Athletes have given 10 to 15 years of their lives so we need to make sure when they get to the Games, everything is sorted.

"What athletes want is certainty. For us it's understanding the environment in London and how it will work, what the venues are like, how the transport works, where the village is.

"We have a high degree of confidence in the local organising committee. Some previous organising committees have lied through their teeth, really, and have had no bloody idea."

London is hosting the Olympics for the third time, the first time since 1948, and some things the NZOC has done point back to the post-war era.

Its uniform has been modelled on the one worn by the 1948 team, and it will adopt a theme at the athletes' village that represents the changes New Zealand has undergone in the past 60 years. Hopefully this team performs better than the 1948 version - New Zealand did not win a medal.

The village, which cost £1 billion ( $1.95 billion) to construct, will be a central focus for athletes.

New Zealand has one of the 11 accommodation blocks, complete with lounge, cafe and big screens. Athletes will get a sense of how big the Olympics are sharing a dining room that can seat up to 5000 and caters for nearly every ethnicity including British, Asian, Mediterranean and halal food.

A McDonald's restaurant is also on site for those wanting a different kind of sustenance, and there is also a post office, bank, dry cleaner, hairdresser and chill-out zone with private cinema, stage, bar (minus the alcohol), music studio, pool and computer gaming area.

It's part of what makes the Olympics different to any other competition and that, combined with seeing the likes of Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Maria Sharapova walking around the village or the intense media interest and logistical hassles, can make it difficult for some first-time competitors to cope.

Cyclist Greg Henderson, who will be going to his fifth Olympics, said he found his first two in 1996 and 2000 "overwhelming". "This year, I know what it's all about. I've been there, done that and know what it takes to win at this level."

It's easy for athletes to get distracted by what's going on around them, especially in the last week when many have finished competing.

One anonymous US athlete recently told the New York Post that once competition ended she was "partying my butt off", and 10,000 condoms were provided for the 10,500 athletes in Beijing, each one featuring the Olympic motto "faster, higher, stronger".

It's up to Currie to ensure athletes focus on what they are in London to do, regardless of the distractions.

"Some people say it's just another sporting event but the reality is it's the Olympics and you can't be there and not be influenced by it," he says. "You should be excited but don't let it deflect you. This is years of your life and, yes, it's bloody exciting but you can't lose focus on why you're here.

"We work hard to ensure the clutter doesn't get in the way. We have a clear agreement, it's a high-performance environment and you'll be respected and have to respect others. By and large, it works."


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