London 2012 – Behind the lens

It was 3 days before the start of the Olympics. I arrived in London to incredible heat, the hottest day of the year.  I had to carry my camera kit to the International Broadcast Centre in the Olympic Park. Not knowing the lie of the land, I thought I’d take a walk and do it by hand, on the tube. I set off with my trusty trolley from Shadwell, where the BBC had put all staff up in student digs.

 

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My camera kit on the Docklands Light Railway

 

As you may know if you’ve kept tabs on this blog since I started writing it, I took time away from my BBC job in the UK back in 2010 specifically to work over in Vancouver at the last Winter games. I’ve got a slight obsession with major sporting events. Walking into the London 2012 Olympic Park that day with my heavy trolley was quite special.

 

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My 1st view of the stadium as I entered the park – Opening Ceremony rehearsals were underway so cast members were milling around

 

What was just as special was that I’d be working for the BBC. The host broadcaster. Number 1 in the list of broadcasters for London 2012. All those long hours, nights, missing out on my other passions, music and sport, seemed worth it to be here in this job.

 

I finally reached the BBC offices and basked in the freezing air conditioning. The other members of our team were starting to assemble. We were there to serve BBC Nations & Regions, the parts of the BBC which offers local content whether you’re in Wales, Scotland, the North East, the South West, or East Yorkshire (!). My job was to film and edit specific material for all of the 12 English regions, along with my assigned reporter, Tanya Arnold from BBC Look North.

 

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The BBC Nations & Regions office with BBC News behind

 

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Our Nations & Regions edit suite – Avid Media Composer (my favourite!)

 

 

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Map of the ground floor of the International Broadcast Centre – Note the size of the BBC office compared with the American NBC operation

 

I’d been interviewed for the job back in September after initially interviewing successfully for a job with the Olympic Broadcasting Service in early June. OBS are the company who film all of the sport, they work specifically for the International Olympic Committee at every games.  They provide a feed of every single piece of action to all of the broadcasters around the world, who then add commentary and analysis from their purpose-built studios and offices around the Olympic Park.  That job sounded brilliant, but being part of the OBS team has its downsides. Because of the need to specialise in each sport, a camera operator may find themselves tied to one venue. If that’s athletics then quids in, but it may equally be Greco-Roman wrestling (no offence to all you wrestlers out there of course, but it’s not the focus of national interest in Britain).  The other trouble I’d had was that accepting the job with OBS may have meant that I would need to leave the BBC, which was a big decision to make. So, I held on hoping that I may be allowed either to take up the OBS role on unpaid leave, or that something at the BBC would eventually come up. So when I managed to get the Nations & Regions job at the BBC it was a huge weight off my shoulders – I would be part of London 2012.

 

And not just part, the job required me to flit between lots of different venues gathering material, rather than be fixed at one. My accreditation was ‘ALL’, the golden ticket. I could access every single venue across London from Wimbledon, to the ExCel, to the Olympic Stadium.

 

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Wearing my ‘ALL’ accreditation before shooting a live broadcast outside the stadium. The borrowed BBC Sport shirt also proved useful for getting into places.

 

It sounds brilliant, but there’s obviously a lot of work to do and getting the time to hop around watching sport is not really an option. You take what you can get in the short times you have between filming jobs, and often miss what everyone else is getting excited about. I probably watched less TV during the Olympics than I would do in a normal 2 weeks.

 

However, there were some highlights! I totally lucked out on a few occasions, sometimes when working, sometimes when having the evening off in the right part of London. Here are some of those special moments…

 

Day 0, 27th July, Olympic Village & Opening Ceremony

 

Just before the games started, we were allowed into the athletes’ village to do some filming and look around. It was quite surreal being there with hundreds of athletes from all around the world milling about. I filmed in the gardens, the gym, an athlete’s flat and in the canteen where I had the pleasure of seeing the entrance of one Usain Bolt. As he strolled through the canteen along with the rest of the Jamaican sprint team, everyone’s heads turned. He went off to get his lunch and then I filmed him again as he left.  Even his fellow Olympians were crowding around to get photos and autographs from the great man. It was astonishing. I couldn’t find a link to the pictures which were all across the national news bulletins that day but there was clearly a Guardian snapper in the room too!

 

Oly_village
In the Olympic Village shortly after filming Mr Bolt – incidentally that grass is the softest I’ve ever walked on!

 

I brought the footage back to the office and used it to edit six preview films for different regions.  It was then that I got a knock at the door of the edit suite to say that a draw was being made in the office for 2 spare passes for the opening ceremony. I never win anything, but out popped my name and I was given a pass to go up to the stadium to witness history.

 

I legged it up there and spent a while trying to find a spot. I eventually eyeballed a news camera crew from the BBC and went up to the platform they were occupying and stood with them. In the hour before the show started, the ‘green and pleasant land’ set was up and it was surreal. They had really created a serene atmosphere in a vast crowded stadium. Everything from the smoking chimney of the cottage, to the sheep milling about made it special.

 

 

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On the camera platform shortly before the start of the opening ceremony

 

The heads of state arrived, the pre show ended and it was underway. Most people know what happened from now on and it seemed to be well received. From my vantage point the show was amazing. Highlights were definitely watching the James Bond film on the big screens and then seeing the helicopter appear live over our heads. Tony, the news cameraman I stood with, was very pleased to ‘get a shot up the Queen’s skirt’ as her stunt double leaped from the helicopter.

 

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‘The Queen’ and James Bond leap from a helicopter above me. We actually interviewed the stuntman who played her majesty a few days after the show

 

The firework show was deafening from inside the stadium and it was a brilliant start to what would turn out to be the most fantastic two weeks of sport I’ve ever witnessed.

 

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The fireworks were breathtaking – although I think the best view of them was from outside the stadium!

 

Day 1, 28th July, Wimbledon Centre Court

 

We arrived at Wimbledon after slogging across London with the camera equipment in order to interview the GB interest in the tennis: Andy and Jamie Murray in the men’s doubles; Laura Robson and Heather Watson in the women’s doubles; and Elena Baltacha in the women’s singles. I’d been at Wimbledon for the All England Championships at the start of the month and have worked there before but I’ve never been anywhere near centre court when a match is being played. We interviewed Elena after her 1st round match and I needed to feed the interview back to the International Broadcast Centre. I had been told that the feed point was on centre court, so I dashed off there following the signs for ‘Mixed Zone’ (the area where athletes are interviewed immediately post-match).  On arriving it was apparent that a match was being played so I waited for a break in play to enter the arena.

 

It was exciting to even get in there so I was blown away find that the match being played involved Roger Federer. The mixed zone was literally on the front row, the seats that you never get unless you have serious cash. I sat there, feeding the interview down the line, watching the greatest tennis player of all time steamroller his way into the 2nd round.

 

Centrecourt_fed
My view of Roger Federer on centre court

 

As if that wasn’t enough, he finished the game and immediately headed straight for me! Having not been in the mixed zone before I didn’t realise why until the NBC man next to me called him over for an interview. I also got a taste of how popular he is when the entire block of spectators rushed down and tried to get autographs.

 

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Roger Federer being interviewed by NBC on Centre Court – I have about 25 fans climbing on my back at this point

 

I was virtually crushed by Federer fans waving oversized tennis balls and felt tip markers. Being the nice guy he is he came over and signed a few, reaching around my camera lens as I filmed him.

 

Day 6, 2nd August, Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich

 

Not being a full time member of the BBC Sport team, I’d never expected to be right in the thick of the action when the gold medals came in, but this day turned out to be one of the best of my career so far. We were dispatched to the men’s double trap shooting; qualification in the morning, finals in the afternoon at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich.  In the early stages of the games when so much competition is happening, BBC Sport sometimes run out of cameras and so we were being used to cover the shortfall,  and, as a result, were the only BBC crew there in the morning. I took up residence in the mixed zone and filmed the early rounds, feeding my material back to the IBC as I shot it. One of the more surreal experiences was sitting down to have lunch straight after the 2nd round to see my shots of Peter Wilson plastered over the headline sequence on the BBC1 afternoon Olympics show (yes, they actually showed shooting on BBC1 that day!)

 

Peter Wilson hits a skeet
Peter Wilson hitting a clay from my position in the mixed zone – iPhone pic! Very lucky to catch it.

 

Between the morning sessions, whilst Tanya was doing inserts for radio shows, I’d had a scout around the grounds to see if I could find any of Peter Wilson’s family. I got chatting to some Team GB-clad chaps and they pointed me towards his dad Charlie, who turned out to be a lovely bloke. I spent a while talking with him and then again after the 2nd round. He was nervous but confident that his son could do it, and we got on well.  So well that when Peter did win gold and we were interviewing him, Charlie decided to jump into our mixed zone position to congratulate his son. It was a really special, emotional moment that will stick with me for a long time. To see your son achieve an Olympic gold medal must be amazing. The footage went right across BBC Sport outlets and to the regional programmes too. BBC Points West in Bristol did a great piece, using the footage really well. It was fantastic to be part of it.

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Peter Wilson receiving congratulations from his friends – his dad had just jumped into our mixed zone to hug his son

 

Day 8, 4th August (‘Super Saturday’), Olympic Stadium

 

After a fairly quiet day, Tanya and I went up to the Olympic Stadium to film some pieces to camera for a documentary about Jessica Ennis’ preparations for the Olympics. Little did we know that it was going to be the greatest night ever for British athletics. The atmosphere throughout the whole night built into the most spectacular crescendo of noise for Mo Farah’s 10,000m win. The first 20 laps were a Mo-led mexican wave of noise as spectators stood up to cheers him on as he went past. the last 5 laps he had everyone on their feet and when he kicked out down the finishing straight the noise was immense. I will never experience anything like that again. Superb.

 

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In the Olympic Stadium on ‘Super Saturday’ – great spot too

 

We did our piece to camera from the camera platform overlooking the medal podium; you can see that in the documentary ‘Jessica Ennis: Golden Girl’ which, incidentally is a great watch. Well done to the team at BBC Leeds who put it together.

 

Day 9, 5th August, BBC studio & Olympic Stadium

 

In the morning, I’d been up at the BBC studio to interview Jess Ennis for BBC Leeds, BBC News and Newsround as well as another athletics hero, long jumper Greg Rutherford and two members of the victorious women’s team sprint cycling team.

 

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Filming a Newsround interview with Jess Ennis from the ‘Balcony of Champions’ in the BBC Studio

 

The day then got even better as virtually the entire rowing team had come over to the Olympic Park following the completion of their events. They came through the BBC studio to sit on the sofa for a chat, and as they left, we grabbed them for interviews with the regional TV stations in mind. I think I shook the hands of 14 gold medallists that morning.

 

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BBC presenter Claire Balding chatting to numerous gold medal winning rowers

 

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Kath Grainger and Anna Watkins – 2 of 14 Gold medalists I met that day

 

The day ended with an evening off and my thoughts immediately turned to the stadium and the 100m final. We sneaked back up to the same camera platform we’d filmed from the night before and managed to catch the night’s athletics.

 

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Usain Bolt et al on the start line for the 100m final

 

As amazing as it was to watch the 100m final live, it wasn’t quite as special as the previous night. Still, I was there!

 

Days 15 & 16, 11th & 12th August, Hadleigh Farm, Olympic Stadium, BBC Studio

 

These days merge as a single experience because I don’t think I stopped for 24 hours! The Saturday had started early with another meeting to film the rowing team in the Olympic Village, but then had been all about mountain biking at Hadleigh Farm in Essex. We went up to the site to try and find the friends and family of Annie Last, the only GB woman competing that day. It turned out to be a tricky one. Nobody we met had any contacts for the family, and the site was huge.

 

Hadleigh_farm
On the camera platfo
rm overlooking the huge Hadleigh Farm mountain bike site. Finding family was a bit of a ‘needle in a haystack’ task

 

Still, with a positive attitude I set about wandering through the crowds to try and find them. I’d all but given up when I spotted a huge contingent of fans at the summit of one of the many ascents on the course.  I shouted over the barriers and got their attention and found out that they were indeed who we were looking for and that there were tonnes of them! It made great TV, we interviewed mum, dad, brother, school friends and even Grandma who was local to the area and chuffed to bits to see her granddaughter competing at the Olympics.

 

We headed back into London after filing the footage and after a bit of editing decided to head over to the stadium to catch Mo Farah’s second attempt at gold, the 5000m final. As with ‘Super Saturday’ the atmosphere was immense. The whole nation seemed to be willing Mo to win. I know there were some great achievements throughout the games, but for me his stood out as the most exciting and captivating. Maybe it was the fact that I was there!

 

The next morning, I again headed to the BBC studio and interviewed Mo along with fellow gold medalist, Luke Campbell (from my hometown of Hull!). The crowd below the balcony were loving it, all doing the ‘Mo-bot’ and chanting his name. I’ll never forget that either.

 

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Me with fellow Hull lad – boxer Luke Campbell

 

 

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Mo Farah greeted by the crowds outside the BBC studio

 

That night we watched the closing ceremony with a few beers. It seemed surreal that it was all over. I expect that those 2 and a bit weeks will be the highlight of my career but, you never know, something could top it! It was fantastic and I was privileged to have the experience. Although I expect people all around Britain have their stories of where they were for certain moments, and there are parts I wish I had seen on the TV which I’m only just catching up on now (thanks to the brilliant work by my colleagues at BBC online), It was a unique place to be for the only home Olympics I expect I’ll ever see. I hope to do it again at a future Olympics, but first up is London 2012 Paralympics which start in a few days. I’ll be working for the same IPC team that I joined for Vancouver 2010. It promises to be just as special.
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