October 6th, 2000



This time my newsletter comes as a journal. It is actually a translation from the articles I wrote for my hometown paper, just a bit more extended as I don't have to look at the number of words this time. Then again it's a bit weird a journal in a journal. Oh, well. Never said I was normal.

Gerbie on tour (19)

Hi everybody. Obviously it has been a very busy period lately over here with the Olympics taking a lot of my time, that's also the reason this newsletter hasn't appeared for a while. This time I am using the pieces I have published in the local newspaper back home as a base for the latest edition. Easy if it comes to the Dutch version, a bit extra work if it comes to the English version. That's compensated then. It will be the longest letter I wrote since this newsletter started, but as loads of things happened everyday, this still is only a small summary. It is sort of a journal starting in july, until the end of the Olympics.

July 15:

I have decided not to return to South America (yet), as I originally intended, but to go to Australia to see if I can land a job in the Olympics.

August 16:

2 days ''till departure, last visit to the football park back home. Recommendations to make the television vary from taking a local flag or running butt naked in front of the 100 meter final.

August 22:

Arrived in Sydney, via Singapore. I am looking for a place where I can register myself for a job in the Olympics. As a headless chicken I walk the streets, not knowing where I am going, not looking at the city itself. Not even the Olympic shop can tell me where to go. I thought that with my extended tourism experience and language skills I'd land a job easily. After 2 hours I start to realise that they might not be waiting for me over here. Even worse: the games might go on regardless.

August 24:

After endless phone calls and lots of asking around I have found the office of SOCOG, the local organizer. I receive an application form for volunteers, but it has been completed by a retired Englishman. I get my own copy after that.

August 26:

Came to hand in the form, found myself being interviewed immediately. 10 minutes later I am back in the street with a roster as a member of a 'response team'. What that exactly means I can't tell.

August 28:

I buy some tickets for the days I am not working. Gives me a chance to see the Dutch teams at Baseball, Hockey and Volleyball. The only thing I need is lodging now.

September 3:

Moved yesterday to an apartment in Cogee, near the beach, together with 4 other Dutch backpackers. Today I've got my first training. I leave early, as the Olympic park is not easy to get to. Bus, train, another train and a big walk inside the park. It's an effort to find pavillion 3 where I, together with a couple of hundred other volunteers end up listening to a list of speeches. The drawback is that I realize that I might not see any stadium from the inside. The tour of the park is impressive. Plenty of stadiums, one even bigger than the other, it all looks so fabulous.

September 4:

I am getting my accreditation today. Again it's not easy to get there. A good book and 6 stations later I realized I should have stepped out of the train. The average age in the UDAC (Uniform Distribution & Accreditation Center) is very high. It seems to me that the knitting-, bowls-, bridge- and flower arranging clubs must have lost a lot of their members lately. Apart from my accreditation (also valid as ticket in trains) I get 2 bags full of uniform.

September 5:

A house mate of mine takes a picture of me in full uniform, to accompany this journal in the paper. I immediately take away the film to be developed.

September 6:

Picked up the pictures. The first ones are still from Nicaragua. It's fun to relife part of the journey this way. Unfortunately the ones from Honduras didn't come out, as opposed to the Venzuelan ones who are brilliant.

September 7:

Last training. Again took several wrong turns, even though I got some directions. Apparently nobody knows their way around. The presentation is terrible. Almost everybody, including yours truly, showed up late. There's too many there, the speeches can hardly be heard and the screen is nearly invisible. The question that how are we supposed to help the spectators if nobody even tells us where everything is, seems justified. Hopefully it'll all go well next week.

September 8:

The regional radio station back home called. They want me to do a daily item at 6.40 am. Extremely early. Luckily we are 9 hours ahead of central european time.

September 9:

Bought some extra tickets, to fill up my last 'empty' day during the games. The schedule is getting very full with work, games to watch, the radio and my weekly journal. Then again there's plenty of time to sleep afterwards.

September 11:

Had a nice walk past the coast, sat in the sun with the latest Thomas Harris (Hannibal, the follow up to Silence of the lambs), on coming home it seems that the radio called all afternoon. Misunderstanding. I double checked even if it was from the 18th onwards. Okay, from tomorrow onwards then.

September 13:

I am bored, if it's up to me, we can start, I don't want to wait any longer. Mom called to tell that I am doing really well on the radio. Luckily she's very objective. I am curious if anybody listens to the radio before 7 am.

September 14:

The torch relay comes to Cogee today. It has been going for 99 days now. It survived attacks from idiots trying to steal the torch, people with a fire extinguisher and a controversy over a birthday cake that couldn't use the Olympic flame. One of the 10.000 torch bearers died immediately after he finished his 500 meter. 27.000 kilometer it went through this whole country, for many Australians the highlight of the Olympics is the torch coming through their village.

Early morning the first enthousiastics are waiting on the rocks near the beach. Thousands see it enter Cogee and tens of thousands are waiting at and around the beach. Without exception everybody is very enthousiastic. As the torch enters the little boat on its way to Bondi, a spontaneous applause rises, I never thought this could be so good. Infected by the crowd I easily fill up my 5 minutes radio time, I hardly hear any questions.

The inner city is filled up with a million people welcoming the flame at the town hall, past the Opera House. At nighttime we visit the Holland Heineken House. It is quiet, there are no celebrities, even though they have been promised and the disk jockey is bad. Disappointing and I didn't put my hopes up high in the first place.

September 15:

I get to the park easier than ever before, I am an hour early for my first shift, the opening ceremony. The organisation is bad as before, we get pushed around a lot, walk distances. Nobody seems to be sure what needs to happen, it appears, though the public probably won't realise as there are so many of us around. I am busy taking pictures for people and answer plenty of stupid questions.

I am lucky when the athletes arrive at the north gate in buses. Over an hour I am in between the audience and see many countries parade past us. The African countries are the best in their colourfull outfits and their rhythmic walks. Italy has primary colour trousers and skirts, Argentina the best looking ladies. From the Dutch I only recognize some volleyball players.

My response team (7 people, 5 nationalities) gets moved about a lot. At least there's variety for us. We control the crowd as the torch passes by for its last lap and have an hour break when the countries enter the stadium. Eventually we help out at the train station to get everybody home as soon as possible. It is nearly half past one when it is getting quiet and we can go home ourselves as well.

September 16:

My first session as a spectator is hockey, 2 matches. There's plenty of Orange in the stadium, even though a lot of them do not speak the language. "My dad was Dutch", you could hear with a strong Australian accent. Most fans appear to be football fans, the Scots and English for once feel British and the Dutch team manages a 4-2 win, not unlucky at all. After that Korea and Spain draw, though the crowd would have loved the Korean individualists to win. Many orange fans had gone already. Highlight of the day: lap of honour by the British team. Standing ovation from the whole crowd for the losers. Goosebumps!

September 17:

It's volleyball in town, Darling Harbour today. First Yugoslavia and Russia play a good match (1-3), after that the Dutch have to play Cuba. The Cubans are the favorites and tend to beat the Orange players a lot lately. The crowd seems to be a big help as the Dutch team wins, cheered on by its fans, 3-0. It doesn't do the Cubans any justice that score, though it is a welcome win.

Back in the Park I am waiting for the baseball to start. The queue for the Olympic mega store is huge. You'd have to wait 3 hours to buy a souvenir! Not me, too much Disney to my liking. According to the newspaper the Dutch are an easy prey for the home team. Not. Again I see an orange victory, 6-4 this time. In front of me the mother of one of the relief pitchers sees her son get the last 5 outs. She had been telling us about the ins and outs of the team all evening, it was a fun time. First weekend over, first conclusion: I am the only Dutch person without orange clothing.

September 18:

Through 2 German backpackers I bought a ticket for women volleyball. The Brasilian ladies trash the Aussies and it is the first time a minority (Brasilian fans) make more noise than the home team. Cuba against Russia is a close match. The Russian coach, left over from Sovjet days (grey suit, vodka face and threathening with Siberia) gets loud whistles whenever he appears on the big screen, shouting at one or more of his players. They do manage to win in the end though. Surprisingly. Second conclusion: Already I am sick and tired hearing this Aussie yell (Aussie aussie aussie, oi oi,oi).

September 19:

More volleyball. The Dutch men easily get rid of the home team. Even better: the five set match Italy and Yugoslavia play. Beautyfull saves, spectacular attacking, incredible plays. After several match points for both teams the Azurri manage the scrape through a 22-20 fifth set win. Third conclusion: Volleyball is a brilliant spectator sport.

September 20:

Just in time I sit down in the baseball stadium. Cuba starts off with a home run. The Dutch fight back and manage a win. I have seen an historical match. Never before did the Dutch beat Cuba. Never in Olympic history did Cuba lose a match. They have now. With a small group of Dutch we are enjoying the sensation. We get our ticked signed by Remmerswaal, a relief pitcher, whose father was the first Dutchman to play in the Major Leagues. He's watching proudly.

The Dutch hockey women are still to win a game. In a close match, in which the New Zealand team comes back from a 3-1 deficit, the ladies in Orange score just before time to record their first win. Highlight: Kiwi fans doing the Maori tribal dance, like the rugby players do before their matches, behind one of the goals. Impressive.

Fourth conclusion: with me in the stands, the Dutch win always. 6 matches, 4 different teams and 6 wins. Even 2 improbable ones.

September 21:

Brasil ends my winning streak by beating the volleyball team 3-0. Conclusion four is not correct anymore. The newspapers here talk about the incredible Dutchies. De Broen and Venden Hoegenbent, as they are called here appear in one article with the word dope.

Television here is crap. Arrive late and all you get to see us female weight lifting, shooting and water polo. No daily highlight programme and only Aussies to be seen.

September 22:

Second working day. Walked around a lot in the park, especially with wheel chairs. First empty, later on with people in them as well. Tough day. Fifth conclusion, after a full week: I am glad I have come here, am enjoying myself.

September 23:

All volunteers get a free ticket to one of the Athletics sessions, it is the first time I'm inside the stadium. Impressive, to be surrounded by more than 100.000 people, the series are a bit boring.

At work later that day they give me a megafone to tell the people which way they're supposed to walk. This goes well for the first 5 minutes, after that I announce trains to Melbourne and Vienna and talk about flights to Anchorage being delayed.

September 24:

The women marathon comes past at about half an hour of home. I've got a good spot, a few minutes from the turning point, therefore see them walk past twice. Especially the last few get a big hand from the crowd. The lady from East Timor is very popular. Later in the stadium she gets as much roar as the winner, an hour before her. She falls on her knees to thank the people, until an official reminds her that she still has to do the last lap.

September 25:

Work takes me back inside the stadium again. Waiting for passengers in my wheelchair I am able to see the finish of the 10km (men) and the 5km (women), also the ceremonies with Cathy Freeman and Jonathan Edwards. Cathy is everybody's heroin tonight, she just couldn't lose, even the foreigners wanted her to win her race. I take several people to the train station. Remarkable how many people seem to manage to get to the stadium, but can't make their way back. Later that night I see a bit of pole-faulting and some 800 meter races. I am almost continuously working, only afterwards realise how much I have seen tonight. It was a great night.

September 26:

The road race for women is good. I am lucky to find a spot on the only climb and someone has put a tv outside as well, so we can follow the race while they are not close. There's an international crowd of cycling fans here, especially some kiwi's turn out to be experts. One of the German girls is here as well, she's due for the time trial on saturday. Only the rain spoils the fun a bit. That night I get soaked for the second time that day watching the semi final baseball. Just before the end the games gets suspended. Not until midnight they start playing again. This is a long wait, but good as only the die-hards and the fanatical fans stay on.

September 27:

It is very hot at the cycling today. Sitting on the climb again is the best spot to be, though we didn't need the tv today. Even as the decisive breakout takes place, the screen shows equestrian and basketball. We don't even get to see the finish. In 8 languages we swear at the tv-station. A walkman is our last hope. Ullrich wins. Not surprising when it's 3 team mates together.

That night I get to speak to the crowd at the busiest crossing of the park. It's a great view, sitting in a high chair, tens of thousands of people coming towards you. I start doing more and more absurd announcements, but it doesn't seem to bother anyone. Slowly, but smiling, everybody makes their way to train or bus.

September 29:

Someone has given my boss some tickets, I am one of the lucky 2 who gets to go to synchronised swimming. Ticket value about 250 US$. I wouldn't pay a quarter for it. Still think it's ridiculous to see 16 legs above the water minutes at the time. Afterwards work was quiet, not enough action. Shit day therefore.

September 30:

The time trials are brilliant. Only the Aussies just don't get it. You can't hear the speakers at vital points of the track. And if you can hear them, they show how little they understand. At the medal ceremony for Leontien van Moorsel (3 times gold, one silver) I am standing behind 2 Dutchmen, pretending to be important. With their mobile they call to the vip-stands. "Could you arrange for us that we get the chance to congratulate Leontien later on, than I can arrange for you to come to the hockey final tonight". Yak! It is impossible to keep track of the men's race later. Apparently Ekimov surprises the favorites, I'll read it in tomorrow's paper.

The food in the staff centre is yesterday's warmed up again. Lots of things have been badly organized and many in my teams are just not showing up anymore. With all the changes our work is more complicated than that of other volunteers, but to me that makes it more fun. The media in the meantime are unanimous in telling how brilliant the 47.000 volunteers have been. Athletes and politicians are thanking us and spectators are spontaneously applauding us.

October 1:

Closing ceremony. I haven't slept outside to get a ticket they couldn't sell and therefore decided to give it to the first lucky few volunteers to show up at 7 am in the morning. I am just doing my regular job, outside the stadium. We see the marathon going past and miss out on the closing ceremony. Several volunteers try to sneak into the stadium, only some manage. For the last time I get the chance to direct the 100-something thousand back to the correct buses and trains. I still enjoy doing so. Final conclusion? I have had some very good weeks, seen brilliant sports, enjoyed my job and met a lot of very nice people. Athens next?

That's it for the reports I published in the Netherlands already, just a bit of added information for your sakes, there's no limit to the number of words here anyway. Is is coincidence that I worked in the best Olympics ever (copyright: Samaranch) and that the Netherlands have had their best medal score ever? Who can tell. At least I am looking forward to your mail again.

G'day from Sydney,