Thursday, August 23rd, 2012
Lorenz Gruber (Electronic and Electrical Engineering) reminisces about being an Olympic handball volunteer for three weeks.
“Now it is over, what a fantastic event it was! It is sad that it is over but on the other hand I could not have continued my style of living for a lot longer than those three weeks. I am not saying that I worked extremely hard but it was the times of the shifts and the tedious traveling that were extremely exhausting. To be more precise 95 per cent of my work time was sitting in a corner and checking people’s accreditations. I know this sounds really boring if we were not sitting on the field of play and could watch all the handball games from very close:) That’s why I would not have changed my job with anyone’s. I will certainly never see as many handball games in such a short period of time ever again (unless the Olympics Spirit gets me again and I apply for Rio – but who knows what will happen in those four years).
I think I saw roughly 30 games of handball in total. Having talked about my work in the previous blog posts I will now describe my impressions of fans and teams which I got over those three weeks, as you do get to know them a little.
The most astonishing thing was both Team GB handball teams. I have never and doubt I ever will see two teams lose so badly and still receive so much support from the spectators. I am not trying to make fun of British handball. Everybody was expecting them to lose as it is just not very popular in the UK. It is rather the amount of support despite them losing by 10 or 20 goals that truly impressed me. I can’t imagine what the scores would have been like without this massive home support:) Let’s hope the slogan of the Olympics holds true and a new generation of British handballers will be inspired.
Another thing that struck me over the three weeks were the very different training methods of the teams. I always enjoyed watching the female Norway team train as they had such a positive spirit. They were constantly motivating themselves by giving each other high fives and smiling at each other in contrast the Russian female team were subjected to a coach who constantly shouted at his players. It is good to know that the former training method got Norway the gold medal in the end.
It was impressive to watch the female South Korean team as despite lacking in the inches and pounds of some of the other teams they were extremely quick and determined and managed to get into the semi-final and only lose in extra time.
I have to mention here that the Hungarian coach was the only one who thoroughly thanked us for what we were doing. As it turned out he had been a coach in the German handball league and so I got to know him a little better (as I am German) and I became a little Hungary supporter! In the end Hungary managed to come fourth which surpassed most people’s expectations.
From Geography lessons I envisaged Hungary as a small country with a relatively small population. This definitely did not hold true in the London 2012 handball arena. There were a huge number of passionate Hungarian handball fanatics Their songs even appeared in my dreams one night which did not happen with any other team. Once though I wished I had taken earplugs as I was sitting in front of three elderly Hungarian ladies and they managed to really upset my ears.
Last but not least there was the male French team who were favourites from the beginning and stayed this throughout the entire tournament, securing their second consecutive gold medal. Watching “Les Bleus” was always worth it as players and fans (not including GBs home advantage) were just the best. Having lived for a year in France this is clearly a biased opinion.
The downfalls of the Games
Not everything was brilliant: I think the Games were a true success for the country and the athletes although there were a couple of things that did upset me throughout my time at the park. I have not talked to a single person that said the food given out during the shifts was enough for them. In fact we only got one food voucher for an eight hour shift. The food was of high quality but the staff kept refusing to add a little extra which was obviously not their fault but the management’s. This is even more sad when you watched the people in the Olympics family lounges that are attached to each stadium having the nicest ‘all you can eat’ buffets after each game. My worst experience was on a morning in the staff canteen when I saw they were closing down. When I asked they told me they would have to throw away the food that was left over (which was a lot). Then I asked whether I could have some as they were throwing it away and the answer was “NO”. Since that moment I am strongly in doubt whether this is what they call ‘Sustainable Games’.
I appreciated the effort they put into handing out healthy food to the volunteers. With our food voucher we were entitled to one drink as well. And yet every time I stood in front of the fridge I became upset again. Thanks to Coca Cola we could choose between water, Coke, Fanta, Sprite and their zero sugar versions. I do not mind drinking a fizzy drink every now and then but most of the time I took the water. In the Olympic Family lounge next door they had healthy 100 per cent orange and apple juice….
On the last day of the Games I wandered round the souvenir shops as it was they only day to get into them without getting squeezed and I found the perfect souvenir to remind me of the Olympics. It was a nice frame with a picture of the Opening Ceremony on the left, a metal board with the Olympic slogan written on it, and a special area into which we could put our volunteer accreditation. When I looked at the price I had to hold on to something not to get blown away! They were charging £130 for this. As this was clearly not targeted for tourists but for volunteers they are even trying to make money from people that worked for free for three weeks instead of giving it to us as an appreciation for our work. We did get something from LOCOG: five Olympic pins and a relay baton. From all the multi-billion dollar sponsors of the Olympics however we got nothing…
And then of course there was the empty seat issue but I am going to skip this one as it has been discussed thoroughly.
These were my bad experiences, concentrated.
In conclusion my three weeks of volunteering were pretty stressful but even more fun. And it hasn’t put me off – which is why I have put my name down to do some more shifts during the Paralympics!