Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A different sort of Paralympic medals table

During my stint as a Paralympic Gamesmaker (more on that soon, I promise) I learned that Fiji had only sent one athlete to the games. This apparently random bit of information stuck in my mind (mainly because I do know someone from Fiji!) but a few days into the games I learned that this athlete – a one-legged high-jumper – had achieved a gold medal. 

Amazing. In  my commercial mind, this means that Fiji achieved a 100% success rate in terms of ROI: they invested in one athlete at the Games and came back with one gold. Job done.
This led me to wonder if other countries had done the same. I mean, it was only by chance that I knew that Fiji had one athlete AND that this guy had won gold. Let’s face it: the TV coverage was very GB-centric so stuff like this just seems to have gone by unnoticed. 

So I decided to do a bit of research into the datasets I needed and worked on some simple analysis with these numbers. I defined 'success' as the ratio between number of athletes and gold medals and, with that criteria, my medals table looks like this: 

This medal table looks very different from the one we got used to seeing during the Games (although China still feature quite highly). But in my opinion, it is a better indication of success as it doesn't penalize smaller delegations that had fewer medal opportunities in the first place. 

I then decided to widen my definition of success and include in my calculations ALL medals won, regardless of color. This changes the table to look like this:

China has benefitted from this approach as have some of the larger countries like Germany and the USA which now appear in the top 20. Is this an effective way to measure success? Is it more effective than a simple count of medals? Or should success mean only gold?

In any case and no matter how we look at it, Fiji did indeed achieve what I consider to be the best ROI in the whole of the Paralympic games!

Sources: the number of athletes per NPC come from Wikipedia while the number of medals come from the London 2012 site.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Gamesmaker module 5 - which team will I be supporting?

At last – at long last the day was here, when I would find out what Delegation I would be working with, as well as some of the other Games Makers in my team. This was the session I had been waiting for practically since I signed up.

As the content was nation-specific, we didn’t have a choice of dates for this module as we had had for previous, which meant traipsing across London on a Thursday afternoon, having to take an afternoon off work and resulting in a very, very long day. But who cares, we would finally be told what team we would be rooting for, so off I went with a spring in my step.

The one good thing about doing the journey mid-week was that public transport is much more reliable and dependable then. I got to the venue with very good time and was able to chat with a few Games Makers prior to the start of the event. We were all just as excited as each other about the session.

When we arrived we knew that the dates were based on Continent so after a few conversations I felt pretty certain that our group was the Americas, which was obviously good news to me. But everything else was still a mystery. On arrival we had all been handed a sealed envelope and we were asked to keep this closed until told to open it, which further added to the secrecy and intrigue.

The session finally started and of course the team then dragged things out as much as possible: first we had to open the sealed envelopes and I found mine had a number and a letter. The number represented a specific table which I had to move to, so we all did that. We were still none the wiser though, and even a quick chat with people in my own table led to little more information.

The team then told us, table by table, which people were assigned to which teams – a process that took far longer than was necessary, to be honest. I can appreciate their need to make this all seem very exciting, but after a few minutes it was fairly dull – until you got to your own table of course! Also, some of the delegations are quite small which means they only get a few Games Makers, which meant that some of the tables (like mine) had people assigned to different teams. The assignments were also done in the order of Olympics first, Paralympics next so I had to wait quite a while to hear who I’d been assigned to.

When the time finally came, I discovered that I had been assigned to the Mexican Paralympic Committee – exactly what I was hoping for. It was an exciting moment! When the cheering stopped (and everyone had heard about their assignment) we were asked to open some large envelopes on each table, which had details about the NOC/NPC we’d been assigned to and we had a chance to chat to Games Makers that would be in our team.

After that, we had a break for dinner (and it was nice dinner, something which I wasn’t expecting) and then moved on to the usual death-by-Powerpoint presentations. This time we covered areas such as Opening and Closing Ceremonies, more details on games-time Operations and a summary of all the most important material covered in previous modules. 

As I am a Games Maker for the Paralympics I then had to attend a further session on the Paralympics itself – mainly covering some of the history and background but concentrating on how to deal with disabled people and some good practice. It was an interesting session but one I had to duck out of as I had a specific train to catch in order to get back home before Midnight. But a lot of the material is stuff I’ve covered before in my Disney University training. 

This session was the last one that we would cover Role-specific training in Hackney so it was good to know that all that training has now been done. There was an awful lot of material covered in the five modules and while I feel that some of it could have been covered a bit more quickly – or even in a less boring way – overall the role-specific training has been good. 

Next up: Driver training!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Gamesmaker training Module 4 - the devil is in the detail

It was a cold April morning and I was once again on my way to London for Gamesmaker training. And for the first time ever, I was early! So this time I could relax with my coffee and chat to my fellow colleagues about what they thought of the experience so far. It was overwhelmingly positive but we also were starting to get a bit bored about all the sitting in a room and listening.

After the mandatory icebreaker session (something about picking a piece of sports equipment and relating it to ourselves) we moved right into the training session. This module would cover a lot of the more detailed processes and procedures we might be involved with such as ticketing, accreditation, rate card, etc. 

There was a lot to cover on the day and perhaps we did it all too quickly or I wasn’t in the greatest of moods but this was my least favorite session to date. I found it incredibly tedious, with far too much detail that felt like it wasn’t relevant but which led to far too many questions and perhaps confused people more than it helped. 

So for whatever reason, I just couldn’t wait to get out of the room and on with my weekend. I felt like I didn’t actually learn much and could have done without the session. I’m sure the team tried their best but in my mind all I will remember of that day was that we spent far too long on questions around parking: where, how, who pays, what happens if they don’t WANT to pay? What if we have to pay, how do we get it back? What about credit cards?...and so on.

Just like everyone else, I was really more excited about getting to module 5 because this was the good one: the one where you’d find out what delegation you’d been assigned to! All else was just fluff, so roll on May!

Gamesmaker training Module 3 - it's all about the Athletes' Village

Before long I had another training session, this time in a different venue but still in Hackney. To attend this one I had to get on a train, a tube and then another train! Fortunately the walk after the station was not a long one and for once I made it to a training session just in time.

This Module 3 was all about the Athletes' Village: what is in it, what is around it, and basically everything we needed to know about the venue to help us in our role. We started with a fun icebreaker in which we all shared a greeting in another language that we could speak and fairly soon it was obvious that there were a huge number of languages spoken in the room!

The actual training session then started and it was all very interesting: we saw maps, photographs, layouts and learned lots of useful and interesting facts about the Athletes’ Village. I knew this was a large operation but just thinking about the amount of meals served – and not just regular meals but with particular consideration to strict fitness nutrition, cultural preference, religious backgrounds, etc – is enough to boggle the mind. 

At this session we also had a challenge, which is a well-used team build challenge: to make a tower out of dried spaghetti, using only basic materials and sturdy enough to hold a marshmallow at the top. The highest tower wins. This was mainly used for the team to study the ways we work together and enable them to be able to make decisions. However, I was a bit confused by this as I thought that the way the teams would be placed together was mainly about language and culture so I’m not sure what further insight this gave them. 

Finally we learned about what it would be like to be an athlete at the village for one day. I was very disappointed by this, because it could have been brought to life so well in so many ways, but instead we were presented with a wishy-washy video. Coincidentally, a few days later my Runners’ World magazine turned up and in Jo Pavey’s column she discussed exactly this: what is it like to be an athlete during an Olympiad and living in the Athletes’ Village. It was very well written and I wish I could link to it online somewhere so that every gamesmaker reads it!

Ultimately Module 3 was very interesting and full of great inside information and I felt like I learned a great deal. It had a couple of exercises and challenges which were fun but did get a bit tedious at the end. Disappointingly though, we didn’t get any chocolates this time but we did get a renewed feeling of excitement for the task looming in only a few months…

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Gamesmaker training Module 2 - the first real insight into the role

A week after my gamesmaker orientation event in Wembley I had to be back in Hackney for Module 2 in my role-specific training. This time I had to be there so early that I actually woke up at 6am on a Sunday morning to be able to get there on time… but yet again public transport let me down. A combination of points and signals failure meant that once more I had to race through the streets of Hackney to get to the venue for my training. 

I hate being late for things, grrr.

Anyway, this last module was the most practical one to date. No more introductions, no more generalizations or broad strategic views. This was it – a very clear view of what our role would entail as well as an in-depth view at the concept of ‘hosting’.

This I found particularly interesting, the whole hosting thing. It is basically a term that means that as gamesmakers, we are the hosts for the games and as such, we have some guidelines to follow to ensure that we are being good hosts. There even is a clever little mnemonic to remember them all: I DO ACT.

I am of course immediately reminded of something I learned from Disney, about the guidelines for good customer service or “good show”:
  • Make eye contact and smile
  • Greet and welcome each and every guest
  • Seek out guest contact
  • Provide immediate service recovery
  • Display appropriate body language at all times
  • Preserve the ‘magical’ guest experience
  • Thank each and every guest
The Olympic version isn’t much different:
  • Be Inspiring
  • Be Distinctive
  • Be Open
  • Be Alert
  • Be Consistent
  • Be part of a Team
The principles are familiar, almost obvious, but I do have to remember that this is the UK and it is not a country famed for its good customer service. The challenge, therefore, for LOCOG is to turn thousands of ‘normal’ volunteers into customer service champions. They are trying their best and I really do hope they pull it off. I have always been amazed at the way Disney takes people (from all over the world!) and in basically two days turn them into Disney cast members. So it can be done and I am hoping that the enthusiasm is infectious. 

After learning all about hosting (and a break) we moved on to some very practical aspects of our roles as NOC/NPC assistants, mainly what would the first 24/48 hours be like? We had an overview of what our “clients” (as the NOCs and NPCs are known in our world) go through as they arrive in the UK, what procedures need to be done, what happens to them, what happens to luggage, how do they get to their destination, what meetings happen, and a myriad other little details. It was very, very interesting, mainly because it gave me a better idea not only of my role but of the scale of the whole operation. It is HUGE. There are so, so many details that all need to be taken into account when organizing an event such as this and it appears that the team have left no stone unturned. It is awesome and even a little overwhelming.

We had a few quizzes and games also, to change the pace, and I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I now have a very clear idea of what I’ll be expected to do, what my responsibilities are and also what they are NOT. I have also started to meet some lovely people from all around the world that are just as excited as I am to be a part of this, one of the greatest shows on Earth. 

As I left Hackney and headed back home (with no public transport issues this time, thankfully) I reflected on what this opportunity meant and what an experience this would be. As I looked at the clumps of snow on the streets I thought that soon enough the snow would melt, the trees and flowers would be green again, the weather would warm up a bit and before too long it would be the summer and I would get my chance to do what I was being trained to do. 

And I can’t wait.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Gamesmaker orientation - fantastically motivating

Two weeks after Module 1 of my role-specific training I attended Gamesmaker Orientation in Wembley Arena. I knew this one would be different because every gamesmaker, regardless of role, has to attend one of these sessions. I anticipated there would be a lot of people there, as it was being held in Wembley Arena and as before, I looked forward to the day but with a little trepidation as the last event had left me a bit unsure and concerned.

I had to be at Wembley Arena quite early on a Sunday morning, which meant up very early in order to get on the train to get down there. However, overnight on the Saturday we got a large amount of snow so I worried about trains running at all. Adding to this I overslept on the Sunday morning which meant I basically got up, got dressed quicker than ever and left my house with barely a goodbye. Luckily for me the roads were basically clear (thank you gritters!) and I made it to the train station with a minute to spare.

Sadly my good luck ran out right then as signalling problems on the line meant that trains that were meant to run weren’t and I had to figure out alternatives to get to the event. Fortunately by then  there was a large group of gamesmakers all heading in the same direction so we quickly organized ourselves, got on a bus and got to Wembley in one piece. 

Once inside the arena it was pretty overwhelming to be in the same room with so many gamesmakers. Before long the show started and YES it was a show! We had Jonathan Edwards as our host, and he introduced a number of people from LOCOG, all doing their very best to motivate us and thank us for helping out. There was a little fashion show where we got to see the uniforms, there were competitions, there was a fantastic routine by Eddie Izzard and a lot of love (and chocolate) in the room.

By the end of the session all my doubts were removed. I knew I just had to stick with it – this was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity and I couldn’t let it pass. Sure, it would involve some sacrifice and an awful lot of hard work but it would SO be worth it. I had been given the opportunity to do something special and I was one of the lucky ones!

To say that I skipped out of Wembley would be an understatement – well, I did try to skip but the snow and ice on the ground made it unsafe, so I actually didn’t. I was full of excitement, energy and I just couldn’t wait for the summer to put on my gamesmaker uniform and make history!

First Gamesmaker event - elation and doubt

Back in October I was full of excitement at having beenchosen as a Gamesmaker for the Paralympic Games, in the role of NPC assistant. I promised then that I would blog as much as I could and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that nothing much has happened since. 

Couldn’t be more wrong.

The year 2012 came and before I knew it I was having my first Role-specific training session in wonderful Hackney. This was my first event as a full-fledged Gamesmaker and I wasn’t sure what I was expecting so off I went with an open mind and an endless curiosity to London on a cold January afternoon.

I won’t bore you with the details of getting lost on the way there (ANNOYING) but eventually I made it and even though I was late all the organisers there made me feel so welcome while they were checking me in. I was directed to a room where there must have been about a thousand other people, all NOC/NPC assistants like me! 

The day itself was interesting as it included a presentation on the background of the Olympics and the various organizations and committees that make it up, to help us understand what our roles would be and where they fit in. The most fascinating thing is that most of us were chosen because we have a second (or third, or fourth or even, in one case, a fifth!) language. This meant that it was a pretty international cast of characters in there. 

We didn’t just sit there and listen to presentations – we also met some of the team from LOCOG that we will be working with, we had a few quizzes (with prizes!) and then spent a lot of time playing various games that were designed to help us remember the various venues and the events that would be held at them. This is important for us to know as we will be acting as ‘concierges’ to our NOC or NPC so we need to know what happens where and where the actual venue is. 

I left that day feeling a little more familiar with the actual role offered to me and a little overwhelmed by the commitment that I had signed up for. The reality of working long shifts in unsocial hours and over 6 days for just over three weeks did make me wonder if I had done the right thing and I went home feeling elated but somewhat overwhelmed as well. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find the time to fulfil my duties and I even wondered if I should re-think this opportunity. 

I shouldn’t have worried. My next event at Wembley convinced me that I WAS doing the right thing! But that, as they say, is another story for another day.

Monday, 6 February 2012

My hair is my strength

I spend a lot of time thinking about my hair, taking care of my hair, styling my hair and generally doing hair-related things. I really just love my hair.

It makes me seem a bit shallow.

That could be a fair-enough statement - with all that is going on with the world, why spend so much time fussing about my hair? After all, it wasn't that long ago that my hair was nothing more than a source of frustration because I didn't know what to do with it.

In case you don't know what I look like, I have long, thick, brown, curly hair. Well, I say curly but in reality it is wavy and it takes a bit of effort to make it curl. And that was my biggest frustration: because I have "in-between hair" I could be either straight or curly and for many years I chose straight.

You can hardly blame me: it was the 90s and everyone wanted Rachel hair. I had just emerged from the 80s after numerous perms and quite frankly, I was ready to embrace my inner Rachel. So out came the straighteners, the blow driers, the straightening balms and all the rest.

When done right (and by this I mean 'professionally') my hair would look pretty nice when straight. The only problem was that I couldn't often get the professional help I needed to make my straight hair look ok, so often I would try my best and end up with a frizzy mess.

I also knew that all the heat from the straightening wasn't really helping my hair and was drying it out quite a lot. Leaving it 'as is' wasn't an option either because it would quickly turn into an afro. I wanted quick, easy hair that I could wash and leave so I did the obvious thing and cut it fairly short.

This worked for a while except that I couldn't really do much to it when it was short so I slowly let it grow again and I was back where I started. Eventually I became a mom and had zero time for anything at all to do with my hair (or anything that wasn't the baby, really!) and I simply pulled it back. This became my look for more than a couple of years...

I would still refuse to cut it short though. I have always liked long hair and with few exceptions, my hair has been long throughout my life. But it really wasn't doing anything for me just hanging off the back of my head. I did try to do a few different things but hairdressers just didn't seem to get it and I ended up with hair that I couldn't do much with.

Eventually though,I stumbled across a hairdresser that did get it. She didn't even ask me how I wanted my hair cut, she just did it and the result was a complete revelation. I could have curly hair and it could look good! At about the same time Carrie on SATC had made it absolutely clear that Rachel's time was over and it was absolutely ok (and fabulous) to have long curly hair.

So I did. I quickly realized that curly hair was not that difficult to achieve and with a little time and effort it could not only look good but save me time. I learned all about plopping and plunking. I invested in lots of products for curly hair. I bought a diffuser. I stopped brushing my hair, especially when wet. I learned that when done properly, curly hair is the easiest kind to deal with. And I let it get longer and longer and longer... and discovered in the process that having long, thick, curly hair that looks good was the best accessory I could have.

These days I absolutely love my hair. Sure, there are some days when it just won't work but on the whole my hair is my friend. I love to toss it, to twirl it around my fingers, to flick it when I'm dancing, to fluff it up, to pull it back, to pile it up or to let it hang down. Having nice hair makes me feel confident, sexy and girlie. My hair has definitely turned into one of my biggest assets!


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