Just after the London 2012 Olympics John was interviewed for his company magazine about his experiences as one of the team of Statisticians at the indoor Volleyball tournament at Earls Court.
1. As you look back on your Olympics experience, what are the two or three most memorable
moments that have stayed with you?
I was lucky enough to have a ticket for the Opening Ceremony which in itself was an astonishing event
but the entry into the stadium of Team GB to David Bowies song “Heros” brought a lump to the throat.
You can only imagine how the athletes must have felt walking around the stadium being showered in gold
confetti and 80,000 people going crazy.
My role at the Olympics was as a statistician at the Indoor Volleyball, this was literally the best seat in the
house, sat just behind that “advertising” boards at the end of the court. Our job was to log and rate
EVERY touch of the ball during a rally, one person watched the game and called every touch while
another entered the data on a touch screen. Days were long with the first match starting at 9:30 in the
morning and the last match finishing after midnight on most days. At the end of it all I was fortunate
enough to be selected to work at the womens final, even though we had headphones on the noise was so
loud that at times we couldn't’t hear each other.
What will stick in my mind was just how friendly everyone was in London, for a few weeks some form of
Olympic magic dust descended on the country.
2. What are some of the things you learned from your Olympics experience -- for example, about
excellence, competition, results -- that you can apply in some way to your work ?
One of the things that struck me was the scale of the whole event and at the same time the attention to
detail. Of course the Olympics are huge; everyone knows that, but everything from the industrial scale
operation of collecting our uniforms right down to the zealous protection of the Olympic partner brands –
for example every one of the “pixel” units at the Olympic stadium had the manufacturers name blanked
out - the thought and planning that went every aspect of it was astounding.
I remember coming out of the Olympic park, two of the games makers who were directing spectators
were performing an impromptu version of Summer Nights from Grease from either side of the walkway to
entertain the queuing spectators. I’m sure nobody specifically told them to do that, they would have been
given a general instruction for their role (get spectators in and out of the Olympic Park in safety) and left
alone to figure out the best way of doing it (happy & singing spectators don’t cause crushes). The
success of the games was in many ways down to the Games Makers, the organizers invested a lot of
time and money in not only training them but also involving them in the whole ethos of the games, so like
the two singers at the Olympic Park when given the chance, they simply “got it”.
I was told after the first week the typical retention rate of volunteers at previous Olympics was around 80-
85%, in London it was around 96%. The organizers had done a great job at motivating and sharing a
common purpose and vision with a huge number of people from all sorts of backgrounds and had got
them all play their part.
3. Very few people get the opportunity to watch world-class athletes up close. What surprised you
or what did you find the most fascinating about how these athletes conduct themselves at this
elite level of competition?
After unexpectedly losing in the quarter finals I was surprised at the difference in the losing team and their
star player between the “Game Face” while playing and especially doing media interviews, then being
uncontrollably distraught just moments later when out of the gaze of the public and media. The ability to
“hold it all in” until they could reach a (relatively) private area when their true emotions came out certainly
made an impression on me.
Again the attention to detail is fascinating, in addition to the job that we did in collecting statistics, primarily
for the media. Each of the teams also had their own group of statisticians, Japan turned up with a
suitcase full of equipment to record the match and instantly playback anything they had missed and
communicate with the coaches on the team bench.
4. Why did you initially decide to volunteer?
I have played volleyball for over 25 years and have been a coach for 20 years, I started doing statistics at
national finals and GB matches for the past few years, so when London won the games I immediately
signed up. I have found that it has helped my coaching as I am able to be much more objective in what I