GC2018 Games Shaper - peka

My journey as a volunteer for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games probably started a lot earlier than most. I have been involved in Weightlifting as a competitor and official since around 2011. When the QWA (Queensland Weightlifting Association) General Manager Ian Moir was named as the Weightlifting & Powerlifting Sports Manager in 2016 I contacted him about whether I could be a technical official (eg. referee) at GC2018. Ian had taught me how to referee and perform other technical official roles, and I had helped run a number of club, state, national and even Oceania level competitions under his watchful eye for years. Unfortunately there was not enough time for me to be accredited at international level, but Ian told me there would be plenty of opportunity for me to get involved as a volunteer. So I registered my interest and waited.

Volunteer Selection

Interview Day

GC2018 were selecting 15,000 people out of 45,000 who registered their interest. Due to my involvement with the sport, refereeing credentials, and dropping Ian's name any chance I could, I figured I would at least get through to the interview stage. Sure enough in mid 2017 I had an interview where I must have said all the right things and was selected as a "Sport Specific" volunteer. Though we weren't being referred to as volunteers at this stage, we were being called Games Shapers because the message was that we would be the public face of the Games and how we performed our roles would have a huge effect on the outcome. 

Obviously there were many different roles that Games Shapers would perform. Sport Specific roles are probably self explanatory - we would help out with a specific sport. I don't know what all of the roles were but examples of non sport specific roles were Spectator Services, who helped out all the spectators finding their seats at various venues; drivers, communications and others.

Games Shapers Training

Most of the training was done online. The above photo was taken on my way to the Venue Specific Training at Carrara Precinct, which consisted of the Stadium, Carrara Indoor Stadium (which was used for workforce check in and meals for the Games Shapers at this precinct), and the Carrara Sports and Leisure centre which had two arenas being used for Weightlifting, Para Powerlifting, Badminton and Wrestling. At this training we sat through about 90 minutes of powerpoint slides with various people speaking about the sports that were at these venues as well as the vibe they wanted us to project during the Games. There were some kids performing acrobatics to help get us into the spirit of "putting the Ra Ra in Carrara"


Since I have mentioned one of the Para sports, it has to be said that integrating the Para events with the main Games was the best decision that was made and I hope that continues at future Commonwealth and Olympic Games. The Para athletes are just as amazing as the able bodied athletes and they deserved to be able to showcase their talents and skills not as a separate side event as has happened in the past, but as part of the main show.

Games Shapers Uniform

I can't say I was impressed with the uniform initially, but we certainly were going to stand out in a crowd! This photo was taken by my son whose response when I opened his bedroom door to show him was "What the fuck" and lots of laughter.

The uniforms were good quality, made by Hard Yakka and I admit that I did enjoy wearing it.


My accreditation gave me access to the Training Venue and CSL (Carrara Sports and Leisure centre). The blue indicates "Field of Play" which meant I had access to the competition area, which included the warm up room and the Weightlifting competition platform. So this was basically an all access pass to the Weightlifting arena.

Weightlifting Training Venue

My shifts started well before the Games started. The training venue opened on the Monday 26th March and my first shift was Thursday 29th March. I did not have a day off for the duration of the Weightlifting events which finished on the 9th April, and then I was straight back to work on the 10th. I was at the training venue all through Easter, giving up those public holidays, but I was happy to do it.

When I arrived for my first shift I knew that there was going to be 25 weightlifting platforms and around the same number of para-powerlifting benches, but to actually see it was another thing altogether. It was fully kitted out with Eleiko* competition grade equipment, saunas, ice baths, exercise bikes, sit up and back extension benches. This was a world class training facility! 


Every day there were 6x 90 minute training sessions. Countries were allocated into groups with a rolling schedule such that eg. on Monday Group 1 was session 1, then Tuesday Group 2 was session 1 and so on. There were buses every 30 minutes to bring the athletes to/from the Athletes Village. There were two medical personnel on shift, one physio and one general medical person.


Our job was to keep the facility clean and tidy, replenish supplies at the refreshment station (water and sports drinks in the fridge, fruit and muesli bars, tea and coffee etc), have a steady supply of towels, hand out the fractional weights (.5, 1, 1.5, 2kg weights) and get them back at the end of each session. Cleaning and tidying involved sweeping the platforms and setting them back up as per the photos after each lifter had finished. Also cleaning chalk off the barbells and cleaning any blood off the platforms and barbells (the knurling on the bars can rip the skin, especially on new competition bars). Cleaning the saunas and sanitising the ice baths. So there was a flurry of activity to clean up after each session, and then we got to stand around and watch all the lifters train. Most of the volunteers were involved in weightlifting, and most  were QWA members. We had all either competed or run competitions together in the past and this provided a really friendly environment. After a few days the coaches and athletes started to get quite friendly since they realised we understood the sport. The volunteers that hadn't been involved in weightlifting learnt a lot too. 


My view on being a volunteer was that it was our job to do anything and everything we could to enable the athletes to perform at their best on competition day. So while we had a scheduled session for each group to train, we did our best to work around the unexpected and allow athletes to train on empty platforms outside of their scheduled times. Some of the athletes were quite cheeky about this and took advantage of it, but they knew that if there weren't any free platforms they would have to wait. During my second shift one of the NZ coaches asked if we had a protocol for warning each group when their session was coming to an end, to ensure they didn't use up time allotted to the next group. She told us she had experienced aggressive lifters at other international events who wanted to use more time and that it had been a bit of a problem. It was never an issue for us. All the lifters showed appreciation for our efforts and respected the other lifters. Because we had been flexible and accommodating, one of the team coaches even gave up two of his platforms for some athletes from other countries who were unable to attend their scheduled session due to some meetings they had to attend. This was supposed to be the "Friendly Games" and it definitely proved to be the case at the training venue.


*Eleiko is generally regarded as the best in the business with a price to match. A men's competition barbell is around $2k AUD. All of this equipment is being distributed to clubs around Qld after the Games.

Sanele Mao - The Samoan Hulk

Lauititi LUI

Games Shapers had been told not to share photos or ask athletes for photos. They didn't want star struck volunteers interrupting athletes' preparations, and  the athletes don't necessarily want their training efforts shared for their competitors and other team coaches to see before they go into competition. Also, Channel 7 had paid big money for exclusive rights. However, the only press/media I saw in the training venue were team photographers, and the athletes didn't have a problem with me taking photos as I wasn't getting in their face. 

I nicknamed Sanele Mao the Samoan Hulk for obvious reasons. Lauitit Lui was also pretty imposing. Watching these two, and the rest of team Samoa train made most of the other lifters look lazy, which is a big statement when all of the lifters are throwing around big weights in their final preparations. But team Samoa didn't mess around, they turned up and did so much work in less time than most of the others, finishing their sessions well before their time was up. If I was a betting man my money was on these two, as well as Don Opeloge to get medals and most likely gold.

Tia-Clare Toomey

Games Shaper Appreciation

My shifts had been scheduled such that I hadn't seen the Australian team training so I came in early when I knew they would be training heavy. This was the first of a number of extra shifts I did. One of the Australian team coaches was my personal coach when I was competing, another was someone I know well from competitions also. It was great to hear their familiar voices while they coached and have a bit of a chat with them.


Tia-Clare Toomey asked to have a group photo with us and posted a big thank you to the volunteers on her social media profile. When I was competing she trained and competed at the same club when she was in Brisbane so while I won't claim to "know her" or be a friend of hers she's no stranger to me. She is such a down to earth, humble athlete and I have always had huge respect for her achievements. She is now the Fittest Woman on Earth AND a Commonwealth Gold Medalist.

Got back?

The teams from PNG, Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Nauru all trained together as one team and it was a sight to behold. So much energy and positivity, encouraging each other, making noise and generally having a great time while working hard. They also made it look like lifters from the other countries were lazy. All the volunteers loved watching them train as it was such a positive vibe.

The day of the Opening Ceremony we ran through a rehearsal for the host broadcaster. This was to get camera placement and timings etc. right before the actual competition started. We ran through a proper simulated competition with three lifters from the club where I used to train - Cougars Weightlifting Club. I acted as referee and Jimmy wasn't impressed with the red lights I gave him, nor was Dan since we made him bomb out and failed all his clean n jerks even though they were all good (we had to simulate this for the scoreboard, honest!). It was a serious exercise for the host broadcaster but still a lot of fun for us.

Unintentional

Distractions

The first day of competition I was rostered at the training venue again. I knew the lifters who were training would want to know the results of their team mates who were competing so I brought my laptop, paid for the  premium content and streamed the competition live to one of the big screens at the training venue. Myself and the venue manager turned on all the other screens and switched them to the broadcast channels, so the whole training venue (about 14 screens in total) was showing day 1 of the Games coverage. It may have been a distraction for those training as a lot of the time during that shift they were all watching the screens.

Bring on the Competition!

The rest of my shifts were at the competition venue. This meant a 5am wake up for a 7am start as the weigh-ins for a 9:30am session started at 7:30am. 


There were various jobs for us to do here but it was mostly controlling who was allowed to go where based on their credentials. Essentially just controlling who could access the Field of Play and associated areas. The two places all those with an interest in Weightlifting wanted to be were either controlling access to the athlete seating (Field of Play Access) or in the Warm Up Room. While at the former I got to bounce security guards and cops (I'm sure everyone has wanted to bounce security guards and cops!) - don't care who you are, if you don't have the creds you're not getting past :) The cops were great actually, not just the ones who were patrolling that area, but all the cops I came into contact with at the Games. They had a tough job too, the vast majority of them (and there were a lot around!) were supposed to keep out of view of the general public so that they didn't cause any alarm by their presence. They weren't allowed to congregate in groups, weren't allowed to lean against walls, weren't allowed to sit down and weren't even allowed to cross their arms. 


Security on the other hand were disappointing at times. This was supposed to be the friendly Games but some were taking their jobs just a little bit too seriously. At the training venue one was removed from site. He had an attitude with everyone who was coming in, athletes and coaches included. Then he tried to tell a cameraman who was outside the venue that he wasn't allowed to take photos or video of the outside of the building (which he had no right to say). The venue manager had him removed within an hour.

Field of Play Access

This is the view from my second favorite place to work. Rather fitting that it is a photo of David Liti as he was awarded the David Dixon Award for outstanding sporting spirit

Outstanding Sporting Spirit

This is the reason David Liti received that award. Lauititi LUI, the Samoan who I expected to win the super heavy weight category, injured his knee on his final lift attempting to beat David Liti. Lui left the platform on a wheel chair. David wheeled him away from the podium after they were presented their medals and posted the above on his social media. Fierce competitors but huge respect between them.

Backstage Pass

For the Women's 63kg I was in the Warm Up Room, guarding a door and a gap beside a temporary wall - media and athletes had been trying to sneak in to the Warm Up Room here when they had no creds to allow them in (during each session, a lifter may have 3 team personnel in the Warm Up Room with them and a session pass was required separate to any creds they may have had). This was a pretty easy job as in this session no one tried to gain access here so I really had nothing to do but watch.

I was literally a few metres from the platform that Emma McQuaid from Northern Ireland was warming up on. She had been very focused during her last week of training and finished just outside the medals in 4th. The Northern Ireland coaches were great, offering me food and Irish sweets and chatting to me all while coaching their athlete. On the platform next to Emma was Maude Charron from Canada who dominated this category, not starting her first lift in both the snatch and clean n jerk until all the other lifters had finished their 3 attempts. On the platform in front was Zoe Smith from England, silver medalist here, Olympian and gold medalist from the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Zoe took the time after she finished her final lift and before her media obligations to thank myself and another Games Shaper who was near me.

Single Minded Focus

In the Women's 58kg category, everyone I spoke to was expected the Canadian Tali Darsigny to win. Having watched her in training I was of the same opinion. That was until I saw the cameras on Tia as she walked the chute for her very first lift. I competed at national and minor international level in Karate for over 20 years, and in weightlifting for 6 years, and when you've been around elite athletes long enough you can often tell who is going to win by looking at the competitors as they come out to perform. When I saw this camera view of Tia I knew she was going to be the one to beat. Tali certainly make her work for it and had an outstanding performance herself.

Canadian Power Trio

They say Canadians are polite, and these young ladies certainly were, but mess with them are you're likely to get tossed over their heads.

Tali Darsigny, Maude Charron, Rachel Leblanc-Bazinet 

Load the bar for Gold

I've been watching Steven Kari lift since he was a junior and he is always impressive. He didn't snatch that well in this competition, missing two of his lifts, so was 15kg behind before the clean n jerk started. After his first clean n jerk he was guaranteed the silver medal and the gold seemed out of reach, but he selected a weight that forced his opponent to lift first and then had the bar loaded to what seemed like an impossible attempt at 216kg to go for the gold. This is what I've always loved about watching him lift - he will load up whatever is required to win and give it a shot. He nailed it, smashing his own PB and the Games and Commonwealth records. This was more than many of the super heavy weights lifted!

Raging Silver

I chatted to the Canadian 94kg lifter, Boady Santavy a few times at the training venue. He was respectful, polite yet very confident and I liked him immediately. He was lifting really well in training, even though it was the day after a very long direct flight from Canada and he was feeling the jet lag. If anyone was going to beat Steven Kari it was going to be him.

He snatched really well to get a 15kg lead on Steven Kari  despite a mix up in the warm up room where he was forced to lift the default 1kg increment for his second lift at 161kg. His third snatch at 168kg was a Games record though, a great result. In the clean n jerk he opened with a comfortable 196kg, followed by 201kg but then missed 206kg which surely would have made it impossible for Steven Kari to win. It was a pressure lift and perhaps the psychological effect of the mix up with his second snatch also played a part. He has lifted 206kg before so that was a bitter end to his competition. 

Thanks to the broadcast footage, many will only remember him for the short clip of him raging in the warm up room, kicking his belt, after Steven Kari won which resulted in the crowd at the arena booing him. But I loved his attitude in training and on the platform and if we can celebrate athletes showing emotion when they win surely we can understand a 20yr old at his first Commonwealth Games getting emotional and upset for coming so close to a gold medal (and a second Games record. Actually it would have been a 3rd Games record when considering the total!). Most of those who were booing wouldn't have the faintest clue how much hard work and sacrifice it takes to get to this level. It can be heart breaking to not achieve your goals when you have invested so much in it. This photo was taken the following day and while he was disappointed he was still relatively happy with his performance.

Overcoming Adversity

Mike Bencsik is another Canadian lifter I really liked. Many athletes have to overcome all sorts of adversity. Mike's was a strange one because he did it to himself, in the warm up room, right before he had to perform. While warming up with just the bar, he dropped it on his foot and smashed his toe. He didn't tell anyone, not even his coaches. He just sucked it up and went out onto the platform to lift 5 out of 6 with a 200kg clean n jerk. Nice work Mike, I love your attitude!

Cymru

Cymru is the Welsh word for Wales. It means fellow countrymen. At the training venue it was clear they took this seriously, they were a tight knit team. The Weightlifters and Para Powerlifters trained together and arrived and left together. Initially the weightlifting platforms and the para powerlifting benches had been separated by the exercise bikes and sit up and back extension benches. They asked if the para benches could be moved closer to the lifting platforms so they could train closely as a team. This was no small task as each bench had over 200kg of weights and a lot had to be moved around but we just got it done - this is one of those things where if it was going to enable them to perform at their peak, we were going to make it happen. It seemed like a glaring oversight, but was one of those things that wasn't thought of due to this being the first time time Para sports were integrated with the Commonwealth Games. Hopefully Birmingham will learn from this and set things up better from the start.


Gareth Evans put on an emphatic performance to win the gold in the Men's 69kg. He won over the crowd from his very first lift, essentially making the crowd his fellow countrymen (Cymru!). Even though I had seen him train extremely well, he had some very tough competition to overcome and I think most people expected the gold to go to India. I spoke to his coach who said that everyone in the warm up room heard the crowd go wild every time Gareth went onto the platform and lifted, and it seemed to be putting the other lifters off. The end result was a number of missed lifts by the other lifters, while Gareth missed only one. I mentioned this to him when this photo was taken and his response was that people have paid good money to be entertained and he went out there to give them their money's worth. You certainly did that Gareth and we loved every minute of it!

15 Minutes of Fame

On the second last day of competition, one of the chief loaders (there were two teams of loaders) asked me if I would like to load the bar for the first two sessions the next day as he was one loader short. This is actually the job that I wanted when I applied to be a volunteer so it was an emphatic "fuck yeah" answer from me. Loading the bar is not an easy job, and especially at an international competition. It is actually the most important job for the efficient running of a competition - if you dawdle up on stage and back to your seat, the competition can end up running hours late.

But despite still recovering from a fractured ankle and also having a knee injury I jumped at the chance to have the best seat in the house without the responsibility of refereeing.

Loading for those two sessions was the most fun I had in all of my shifts. All but one of the loaders in that team were from Cougars Weightlifting Club and we were constantly sledging each other about not getting to the bar fast enough, and competing with each other to get the loading done quickest. If it looked like we were enjoying ourselves on the coverage, it's because we were. My legs were shattered afterwards, having done the equivalent of sprinting up and down ~500 stairs and doing ~250 shuttle runs. Luckily I had the easier job of handing the weights to the other loader who would then add/remove the weights on the bar.

The Friendly Games

One of the coaches from Fiji. I didn't get his name, but he was always a friendly face.

Withdrawal Symptoms

After twelve days and however many shifts (I lost count due to the extras I did) it was hard to go back to work the next day and focus. It was definitely an unforgettable experience. I'm proud to have been involved in running a truly world class Weightlifting event which produced excellent results from the athletes including a number of broken records (one record was broken 5 times in a period of minutes!). I think it lived up to being the "Friendly Games" and that was largely due to the Games Shapers.


Congratulations on doing an excellent job to: Ian Moir - Weightlifting and Powerlifting Sports Manager; Craig Wegart - Weightlifting Operations Manager; Brad Peters - Training Venue Manager; my supervisors and all the other Games Shapers!

Most of all congratulations to all the athletes.


I haven't shown much of the Australian team in this blog. You may be wondering why. Firstly, Channel 7 showed pretty much nothing but Australian athletes so you've already seen plenty of them; and secondly I wanted to share things that people watching in the crowd and on TV never get to see. It's not because I don't value their efforts or performances, and as I know a number of them from training/competing at the same gym I've already passed on my congratulations, especially to Deb Lovely-Acason for taking out the camera that was on the platform stage :) 

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