The World Athletics Championships in London were a unique opportunity to take on a volunteering role with a difference. I was part of Track Team 500, a group of volunteers who complete the roles that stadium staff would normally fill. This includes all the heavy lifting stuff of moving pole vault beds and uprights, building throws cages, moving steeplechase barriers as well as the more visible roles of blocks and hurdles teams.
I was in the hurdles team and I worked throughout the Championships with the exception of the first two sessions which we enjoyed from the stands.
With the hurdles team, we had 400m and 100/110m events to sort out with the team carrying out different roles for each of the events. For the 400m events, I had the fun job of driving the buggy that carried two trailers of hurdles, with us looking after putting the hurdles out for rows 3 to 8. For the 100/110m events, I had a range of jobs from dumping (getting the hurdles off & on the trailers), setting (moving the hurdles into position on the track), plus clerk of course roles for rows 1 & 2 for run overs before each race and also the clerk of course role for rows 4 to 6 during the races which is basically checking them after each race and resetting where needed.
It was a truly fantastic experience as we got so close to the action, especially during the clerk of course roles as I was stood at the side of the track at rows 1 or 2 as the athletes did their run overs before each race, so you see them up close, especially those in lanes 2 & 3 ! The best experience though was in the Women’s 100mH semi-finals where two of us completed the clerk of course role in looking after rows 4 to 6. After checking each row before the first race, we then sat on a bench just past the finish line and in front of the mixed zone – giving a unique view down the straight for each of the three semi-finals, it was truly fantastic to see the best hurdlers in the world from such an angle where you appreciate just how close to the top of the hurdle they are.
The 400m events were a little different, with the buggy and two trailers along with the pressure of having to stop in set places as well as driving over wire clusters, through gates with the digital boards and then finishing off with getting through the £1m TV screens at the 100m tunnel, which then got firework boxes in front of it once the finals started ! Now driving isn’t a problem for me as I’ve driven buses and coaches for years and had lots of famous people on too, but this was very much a different driving experience which was great fun.
The hurdles team had plenty of praise over the week for the way the hurdles were set out and taken away, with lot of videos of us appearing on social media, as well as photos of me from the North East folk who attended the Championships. We had done lots of practice, either in the first few days of the Championships or at the Anniversary Games back in July and we had great team leaders who led the teams through their roles. So, we had the flexibility to change roles through the team and the set up and take down still looked as smooth to the public.
But it didn’t go to plan all the time as I did have a little incident of hitting the legs of the dumpers in the 400m, but it did sharpen us all up and it didn’t happen again. We also had a certain hedgehog shaped mascot doing stunts on the back of the trolley one night, but luckily it wasn’t one of the ones that I was driving !
We also got some random tasks during the Championships, which for me included wandering around pushing a water blotter around the outside of the cage during the Men’s hammer competition when it was raining. We had to develop an understanding with the officials, athletes, host broadcaster cameraman as well as being watched by a packed house and being on TV a lot as Mo’s 5k semi final was one of the track races on that night.
Being behind the scenes was also a fantastic experience as we had access to the track and also to the warm up area, so in between events we could watch the world’s best athletes going through their pre-race drills and workouts. It was great to watch and learn from – something that every coach would love to have enjoyed and I did make plenty of notes, especially for the hurdlers and it does show how much flexibility is the key for the top performers. The highlights on the warm up track were Mo Farah, Usain Bolt, Laura Muir, Mutaz Barshim, Christina Manning & Kendra Harrison with the best experience being Sally Pearson burping in front of me during her warm up, and she did apologise, a lot, and I did suggest it was better out than in. It can’t have done her any harm as she went on to become the world champion.
I wasn’t the only one from the North East either as we had James Colling and Andrea Fyall as part of Track Team 500 plus we also had a host of Track & Field Officials from the region too.
I kept people entertained during the champs with a daily Facebook Live on what was on the agenda for that day and what we’d done since the previous day’s edition, plus I also bumped into lots of people from the North East who came to enjoy the athletics.
The organisation behind the scenes was great too. We had a little space in our store room for a seating area, plus there was a huge rest area with refreshments available throughout the day. An army marches on its stomach and the volunteers were well looked after throughout the competition with lots of food, either hot or cold and it was all healthy and filling stuff too.
We worked some long days and it was tiring, but it was also a once in a lifetime experience that I’ll never forget. I met and worked with some fantastic people and learnt a lot more on the sport that I’ve got a huge passion for, with a lot of that learning being used for the field official role as well as in coaching too.
Special thanks go to James Colling for getting me into the team and to Dave Hewer for having the confidence in me to do these random tasks plus also to Alison for letting me disappear for a week to do it all.