The two years of preparations for the volunteering work felt like ages, but not the games itself. Time flies when you’re having fun while working hard. After the first week my work as a NOC assistant for Tunisia became less busy. Athletes were settled in the village and important things were arranged. On a few days there was even time to work on my email and study. Sometimes the delegation came for meetings or they welcomed important Tunisian people in the office. Athletes watched competitions on the television there and sometimes I had a nice conversations with them. It was a great opportunity to learn about the athletes live and for me unknown sports.
Maybe it sounds strange, but as an NOC assistant it’s not usual that you can watch a lot of sports at the games. My primary workplace was the Olympic Village. In the first days of the games I haven’t seen many competitions. So I bought tickets for fencing and modern pentathlon. The privilege of a NOC assistant is that you can enter everything (except the spaces for the Olympic Family). So I saw a lot with the delegation in the end. Hereby an overview:
Fencing was organized in Arena Carioca 3 in the Barra Olympic Park. It’s a beautiful venue with different stadiums for cycling (velodrome) and swimming (swimming pool). The fencing arena was an impressive show with lights, screens and cheering people. I watched the men’s epee finals and the woman’s foil aswel. For the non-fencers: you can do fencing with 3 different weapons; epee, foil and sabre. Each weapon has is own rules. Bas Verwijlen was the only Dutch fencer. Unfortunately he ended in the eliminates. South Korea won from the typical fencing country Hungary with only one point difference. He was the only right handed fencer among the top four. His creative attacks made the final a real joy for the spectator. A deserved golden medal I think!
The women’s foil was exciting for me and my Tunisian delegation. The Italian (my father’s country) Elisa di Francesca met the Tunisian Ines Boubakri in the semi-finals. I had difficulties to decide who to cheer for. Ines suffered from an injury and had hard times. She lost the game, but won the bronze medal later on. So we had a happy delegation! The Italian lost in the final from her Russian opponent. A bronze medal with just one point difference. In the last minute she was a lot of points behind. With guts she reduced the gap in the last minute. Unfortunately the all or nothing attack in de last second didn’t deliver her the desired last point. This was one of the most exciting finals I saw during the games!
In the village I also met coaches and athletes from other delegations. One of them was Sam Rukundo a former boxer from Uganda and now living in Sweden. He participated in the Olympic Games of Atlanta 2004. He ended in the quarter finals. After a life as a professional boxer he started to coach other boxers from Uganda. Sam learned me that smaller countries with less money are working together during the games. Also they support at each others competitions. On his advise I came to watch boxing in the cozy atmosphere of the Pavilion in front of the Olympic Village. Coach Sam was helped to care for his boxer by somebody from another delegation. I think that’s the real Olympic spirit!
For me it’s unclear how the points were given by the judges. As an outside I think the boxer from Uganda played better. But his opponent won the game. Sam told me the judges are used to have an electronic system that register points live. At the games they wrote it down on paper with a bigger chance for mistakes and manipulation. Sam will return to Uganda to explain the results before he goed home. I think it was good to hear his story. It makes clear that the way to the games is a though one for some athletes and countries because of financial or political issues.
The Tunisian delegation was hoping for a medal in marathon swimming (10k in the sea). Oussama Mellouli won gold in London and they would like to see that again. His mother (read more in Mission “Massage table”), brother and a small (medical) staf accompanied Oussama. The bus leaved at 6 o’clock in the morning to Copacabana beach. Unfortunately I missed the bus because of a long check-in procedure (I didn’t expect all those housekeepers at that time). I found my way to the beach with public transport. I found the team after a 2 hour trip and a search at the beach. I was on time to support the delegation waving with the Tunisian flag.
Marathon swimming starts with a collective start from the beach. The athletes run into the see and swim 10 kilometers in less than 2 hours. Beside that the beach is a wonderful place to be, you almost see nothing of the competition. On a big screen you can follow the athletes live. Oussama swam in the front (mostly 2nd position) for almost the whole race. The last meters brought a chaos. It looked like somebody pushed Oussama under water. Everybody was so disappointed! It was unclear who became first for a long time. In the end a Dutchman won the gold medal. Good for me too!
After the race we waited for the athletes. The press was ready to take the interviews. We had to pass a big crowd to reach the dressing rooms. It was hot weather already. At the athletes tent we saw a lot of emotions. Tears of sadness, happy faces and disappointment. Athletes work for years to set their best performance at the games. To return home without the desired result can be very hard. Also this is a part of sport! It was nice to meet also the Dutch Olympic athlete Maarden van der Weijden (I created his website www.beter.nu) at this venue.
I went to the Deodoro venue after the marathon swimming. It was hard to find this location the first time. I took the from bus and had to switch connections four times. Orange colored supporters filled the venue.
The Dutch hockey men had a though time with their opponent Belgium. My classmate Max Caldas is coach of this team. It made the game even more exciting! He told about all the preparations for this road to Rio. It must be unbelievable tensive to coach your team to a top performance at the games after all those years. It was sad that they ended 4th. Fortunately the Dutch women ended 2th in the finals. They brought a silver medal home. I was on my way to the modern pentathlon while they were having a nerve-racking shoot-out against Great Britain.
On the road with Tunisia: wrestling and triathlon
After the bronze medal in fencing, Tunisia also won two bronze medals in wrestling and taekwondo. I watched a part of the wrestling competition. For me it was difficult to understand the judging like the boxing was. I was behind the scenes and watched athletes sparring in the warming up area.
I attended the triathlon as a Portuguese translation assistant for the Chef de Mission. The Tunisian delegation had no athletes in this sport, but the Chef de Mission is an active member of the Tunisian Triathlon Federation. It was interesting to see how they use the games for networking. The triathlon was also at Copacabana beach. I waited in the burning sun watching a nice race. Sometimes I got some food and drinks from the Chef de Mission. After a while I decided to look for a place in the shadow and stayed there until the competition was finished.
Modern Pentathlon was one of the sports I really wanted to watch. The competitions were held in the beautiful green venue of Deodoro. Modern Pentathlon is a combination of swimming, fencing, show jumping, running and shooting. Unfortunately the schedule wasn’t clear so I missed the swimming at the men’s and woman’s competition. The athlete can earn points for each discipline. The faster he swims and the more fencing games he wins, the more points the athlete earns. For show jumping with an unknown horse (they draw lots) the athlete starts with a certain amount of points. Points are deducted for each mistake, exceeding of the time limit or fall of the horse. The start time for the last part is based on the total points for swimming, fencing and show jumping. This last part is called combined and contains a 4x 800m run interrupted with shooting on a target. The start time at 0 seconds is for the athlete with the highest amount of the points. For the second athlete they calculate the difference in points into seconds start time delay. The winner is the athlete who finished first.
I got accompany from Julie at the second day (men’s competition). She is American and Mellouli’s physiotherapist. We saw the show jumping while it rained a lot. I had luck and could share an umbrella with a sweet Brazilian woman. It was nice to see this sport at this level. The athletes are real allrounders, ultimate athletes, #5uperathletes!
Together with Julie I saw some athletics in the enormous Olympic Stadium. Disciplines like running, pole vault and hammer trow were held in different parts of this venue. At the entrance the row were long. Fortunately I could use the workforce entrance with my accreditation. It was a great ambiance in the stadium. Between the competitions I enjoyed the medal ceremonies. It was special to see famous athletes being honored for their achievements. The relay was one of the most spectacular disciplines. The audience was screaming and cheering loud! Fantastic!
When the games come to an end you see athletes returning hoe. Especially when they didn’t won any medals. Sometimes it’s hard for them to stay in the village. Some athletes leave the village for other athletes who are participating later in the games because of the costs. As a NOC assistant I had to arrange the cleaning of the condominium (some athletes are like youngsters going on holiday for the first time without their parents). I also helped people with their luggage to the airport. For the medal winners I made flyers and placed them in the office and the condominium. Just a small part of the 60-persons delegation stayed for the closing ceremony. While I put everybody on the bus to the Maracana stadiun the weather is stormy. Fortunately everything went well and I can go home. In the dark! Electricity fails outside the village and it’s very dark on the roads to Recreio dos Bandeirantes. When I reach home I had to take the stairs to the apartment on the 7th floor. Time for bed, because with no light there is not much to do.
Netherlands meets Tunisia
The next day and also my last day as a NOC Assistant, my teachers from the Nyenrode Sports Inc., Bartel and Houdijn are visiting the Olympic village. I had arranged their accreditation with the delegation in the week before. I find nobody in the office (probably sleeping because of the ceremony). I give my teachers a tour in the village. They find it very special! And I appreciate even more my special working space. It was a wonderful experience!