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January, 2013

London 2012, My Experience at the Olympics

This year the Olympic Games returned to Britain for the third time in just over a century. In 1908 the games were supposed to be in Rome but the eruption of Mount Vesuvius required the Italian government to redirect funds away from the Olympics and therefore ending up in London last minute. In 1948, London was the first to hold the Olympics immediately after World War II where they did not invite Germany and Japan due to security reasons. London is the only city in the UK to have ever hosted the Olympics and they were both proud and prepared this time round to host the XXX Olympiad!

A fully decked out Great Britain gurney.

Britain was definitely ready for the onslaught of people – 10000 ‘game makers’ (volunteers), 10000 athletes and a heck of a lot of support staff like me, as well as a slew of Olympic fans from all around the world. I was fortunate to arrive in London two weeks before the games began. A small group of people representing the Canadian Health & Science Team, outfitting, athlete services and a few other mission staff arrived early to ensure that everything was appropriately set up for our incoming Olympians. It is unbelievable to see that we had just over 275 Canadian athletes competing and we sent almost as many support staff to London.

Local First Responder Volunteer

It is really incredible what Canada does to help the athletes ensure their preparation is complete. The Canadian Olympic Committee ships most of what it needs over to the venue well ahead of time in crates – and a large majority of the total shipping is medical and therapy supplies. This is where the chiefs do a lot of work beforehand – ensuring that exact numbers of non-expired materials and supplies get shipped months in advance. We are one of the few countries that come to the Olympics almost self-sufficient. I think we unpacked 70+ crates of materials into our two story apartment-turned medical/therapy clinic in 2.5 days.

The Canadian Clinic in the Athlete’s Village

Not only is there attention to the medical and therapy side…the professional detail that goes into the setup of the building and signage is meticulous. Outside of our front doors was probably one of the most photographed items in the village – our Canadian Moose, Mel Lastman style. Graphics were stuck to every balcony to make our building stand out far beyond many of the other Countries and innukshuks from Vancouver were placed in our courtyard to remind many of home. There were no paper signs stuck up on windows and the mission staff focused on making sure the Canadian home was comfortable and classy at the same time.

Our decked out Canada building in the village

It was here where our first introduction to the LOCOG volunteers (aka as Gamesmakers!). We had 7 dedicated volunteers delegated to our Canadian contingency to help us in all areas. These were local Londoners who went through the volunteer route; stringent training and most had requested to be with Canada because they had some sort of ties to our Country. I thought that I hung around the Olympic Village a lot, but no matter what, those particular volunteers were there before and after me each day slugging around equipment, shopping for what we needed, or working with other local volunteers to fulfill our wishes – whatever those may be. They were wonderful to us!

A true Gamesmaker

My own experiences at the Olympics were indeed spectacular. I am proud to have played my part in delivering the London 2012 Olympic experience, though somewhat minimal. I enjoyed treating our Canadian athletes, being flexible in scheduling and developing a team spirit with humor and good stories of past games. We had a fantastic health care team. The multidisciplinary care that we were able to provide was exceptional – we had experienced therapists, physicians and orthopedic surgeons to meet the needs of our Canadians and referrals directly to anything else we may have required. This year two nurses were added to our team. They helped both on an administrative level and medical needs basis. Both of them volunteered not only their time, but also the expense to get to the Games to be a part of the overall experience. Sam Gibbs (Ontario) was the Assistant Chief Therapist to Marc Rizzardo, Chief Therapist. Gianni Mariani (Quebec) was also part of our Core Health and Science team. We had many other AT’s nominated through their National Sport Organizations – Surinder Budwal (wrestling), Alicia Crelinsten (sailing), Scott Livinston (diving) and Dave Campbell (judo & diving) were also all in attendance. We had a fully involved Chef de Mission – you couldn’t get a better cheerleader than Mark Tewksbury. Our core medical team became professional paparazzi when the royal couple showed up in the village on more than one occasion. Everyone involved with the Games was genuinely helpful.

The Core Health & Science Therapists – Sam, Gianni, Antoine, Kim, Andrea, Agnes, Kip and Marc

LOCOG (London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games) also had top notch facilities as the host Nation. A fully operational polyclinic was set up in the village which had every possible needs relating to health – optometry, dental, diagnostics – all top of the line equipment and professionals. In their rehab area, they had about 6000 sq. ft. available for therapy and another 12 rooms for massage alone. We did laugh a little bit – they had 4 Game Ready units available for 10000 athletes while we had the same number of units, a normatec and a couple of portable cryocuffs – just for our own 275 athletes! We went down to see their recovery area in the basement and wouldn’t you believe that their recovery pool was a Canadian spa. At venues, they had more doctors, therapists and equipment than they had work for – and that is the way it should be.

One of the gyms in the village

Many of the venues were not meant to be permanent. The basketball arena was one of the largest temporary venues ever built for Games. The frame itself was made up on 1000 tons of steel and it was only covered in 20000 sq. meters of a recyclable white PVC fabric that was completely lit up at night. The whole arena will be taken down after the Games with parts of it expected to be reused or relocated to other future Games. The Olympic Stadium had a capacity of 80,000 for the Games and was to be converted after the Games to have only a permanent lower tier with a capacity of 25,000. The venues were remarkable.

Andrea at the Lee Valley White Water Centre for canoe slalom

The Olympic Park located in the east of London was really transformed from one of London’s most economically disadvantaged regions to one of the best legacies of the Games. As this industrial area was left untouched for a number of years after acres of chemical storage plants and factories on the site had left the soil infused with heavy metals, arsenic, cyanide and oils. An enormous cleanup operation using five soil washing machines from Belgium restored 95 percent of the dirt for reuse after washing two million tons of contaminated soil. The polyclinic and buildings were to be turned into apartments and a full medical hospital for locals in the area. It was simply astounding walking around the village seeing table tennis athletes warm up on the side of the road, race walkers practice right there, and even to see some of our Canadians playing a good old game of road hockey.

Venezuela race walk team practicing in the Village

Like a few Athletic Therapists I know – it has been a wish of mine to serve at least at one Olympics on the Health Care Team. What a games to be able to go to! This was my first experience at an Olympics. I have been fortunate to be a part of many past games – experiences from the Provincial level all the way up to the Pan American Games as both host and core medical. The overall atmosphere in London though was brilliant – the competitors, fans and volunteers all had big smiles on their face and even though some Londoners may not have wanted to host the event initially – it was very hard to tell from their overall Olympic pride. The highlight of my Olympic experience (not that you can name just one) was meeting a range of staff from different backgrounds that had all come together to volunteer and provide a first class experience for our Canadians as well as for every athlete outside of Canada.

A true Olympic super fan

Though we had long days working in the clinic from 7am-11pm – you never felt it. Colleagues were offering to stay longer, and we often fought to see who would stay late – no one wanted to leave. I was lucky to attend a few venues and watch our athletes in action, even being “in the house” for our only Olympic Gold medal. It brought tears to everyone’s eyes around us! It was wonderful to see the Canadian diving team in action (and more important medaling) after working and travelling with them for the last five years. Being able to be on the sidelines seeing well deserved hard work be acknowledged by receiving a medal is amazing. I appreciate all of the comments and “likes” I received from people following me on Facebook. We were extremely limited in what we could post online, ensuring that we did not take away from the Canadian Olympic Committee nor compromise any athlete. So, thanks to those that did follow my journey. More importantly, I give a shout out to my colleagues who stayed behind and picked up my slack while I was away from the University of Toronto and Core Solutions – everyone helped make this experience happen!

Many people asked if we participated in the Opening ceremonies. This year it was decided that all support team members would not participate in hopes to decrease the length of the overall entry of countries into the stadium. It didn’t matter. They instead hosted us at the top of the tallest building in London overlooking the stadium with TVs showing the event everywhere. There was great pride at the end of the night when everyone broke out into Oh Canada. It was still a fantastic experience for us. And the food was unlike any past Games experience. The cafeteria ran 24 hours/day and had every type of food cuisine. There were no restrictions, lines went fast during busy hours and they had an outdoor bbq area within the Village to suit everyone’s needs.

The Cafeteria the day it opened in the Village

If you ask any Athletic Therapist about their involvement at Games, I would think that they would say it was a positive one in general. Oh sure, there are always some issues about the travel or food (Not in London though!) I do often hear a lot of querulous comments about “getting” to one of these Games. Every Athletic Therapist can make it at some point in their career if they want to! The application process within the CATA is a very diverse process where they are looking for experience within a number of different areas within the profession. You do however need to dedicate some time with a particular sport at a high level if you really want to go. The hours of service we provide help ensure the accomplishments of many of our athletes is astonishing to see in Olympic fashion. Everyone should experience it – at whatever Games level.

Andrea with Olympic medalist divers Roseline Filion, Meghan Benfeito, Jennifer Abel and Coach Aaron Dziver

But it is always nice to return home after 22 days to the people who think of me as their Olympian!

Andrea’s husband Mark and sons Bryce, Tyson (hiding) and Kyle meeting at the airport.


Andrea Prieur, CAT(C)

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