My best job ever
I’m a mature age Olympian.
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 began my Olympic campaign when I saw a tiny advertisement in a Sydney newspaper one day, recruiting Australians for the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan.
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.
We’re Greek. Ergo, we smoke
“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.
As I settle into my lounge to enjoy another Olympics as an armchair spectator, I feel a twinge of nostalgia; it’s just not the same as being a part of the action, despite the often long and exhausting hours.
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?
26/7/2012 04:48:45 pm
Great piece Hari! You certainly know how to grab the reader's attention from the outset and hold on it to throughout the event - must have something to do with that single-minded focus and ruthless determination you mentioned LOL! Anyway, I enjoyed it. I wish I had set up a website before I left Australia...you have done a good job with it. I'm having a great time in Fulda, Germany (maybe I could do a visitor's blog on your site?) and seriously thinking of doing TESOL so I can come back here and teach and study...
27/7/2012 07:49:12 am
Thanks Kate - glad you enjoyed it. I'd be happy to give you a visitor's guest blog here. Let's talk.
27/7/2012 01:26:42 am
I can't understand why you're not running the London Olympics; helping Boris to control the cockneys, guiding the Greeks to the smoking area, explaining the intricacies of event planning to Liz and Phil; liaising with the BBC. I think you should get over there, right now!.
27/7/2012 07:50:13 am
Peter, sometimes it's nice to watch the Olympics from afar without all that extra responsibility and stress!
27/7/2012 03:23:09 am
I'm definitely an Olympics junkie! By the end of each Olympics I am sleep deprived and walking around in a daze, as there are so many things to watch! I adore watching diving, swimming, gymnastics, athletics and lots of other unexpected & interesting sports we don't normally get to see.
27/7/2012 07:52:07 am
I'm glad I'm not the only Olympics junkie, Jenny! I also enjoying watching different events that I don't normally follow - they're so much more interesting when they're part of the Olympics.
31/7/2012 08:16:01 am
Great piece Hari...How come you didn't get to go to London. If you had done so.and attended the Olympic Stadium... you would almost certainly walked on holy ground...I spent the years immediately before WW2 living on the perimiter of Victoria Park..played in it as a child, walked across it to school ....the last time I saw it it was honeycombed with air-raid shelters and Barrage Balloon Launching units were the walnuts coating the surface. Your story stirred up many memories.. keep it up! Bernie Paul.
31/7/2012 12:01:22 pm
Thanks Bernie - it's amazing how a site is transformed by such massive construction. I was working out at Sydney Olympic Park before the Games and watched most of the stadiums being built in the lead up to the 2000 Olympics.
27/5/2013 08:55:47 am
This blog is great i love reading your posts.The incessant rain had prevented us from opening windows or doors for three consecutive days Keep up the great work!
7/8/2013 09:54:07 am
Nice post. I like the way you start and then conclude your thoughts. Thanks for this information .I really appreciate your work.
8/8/2013 12:29:45 pm
Thanks for popping by to read this post!
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© 2023 HARI KOTROTSIOS
I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, the waters and sky. I pay my respect to them and their cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.