Rob in Rio Herald column Part One

West Wales media consultant Robert Lloyd is spending time in Rio de Janeiro at the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics. He will be reporting exclusively for The Herald newspaper series on his adventures.


If my personal road trip to Rio is anything to go by, this could be a roller-coaster journey.
Three years in the planning, the journey hit what can only be described as a speed bump last week with a medical issue.
So, I write this very much in hope – the hope that I will be on the plane to Rio on Sunday . . . just as long as the doctors agree it is safe for me to travel.
Three years seems like a long time, but the reality is that my personal Olympics and Paralympics journey goes back further still.
A lifelong fan of the Games (one of my earliest memories is of David Hemery winning the 1968 400 metres hurdles at Mexico on our first colour telly!), it has always been a ‘must see’ TV event in our house.
The idea of actually ‘being there’ at an Olympics first started forming during a summer holiday to Rhodes island in Greece.
On a short hop from Rhodes to Athens International Airport, I was sat next to a young man wearing a tracksuit bearing the words Olympic Games volunteer.
It turned out that he was a physiotherapist with a private practice on Rhodes. He’d shut up shop for three weeks to join the army of volunteers helping stage the Athens Games.
I was sold on the idea and hooked on the possibility of volunteering for a future Games.
But it was no more than an idea until the following year, 2005, when Lord Coe and his team made a successful presentation to the Olympic movement and beat off the challenge of Paris to win the right to stage the London 2012 Games.
In 2010, the Games organisers opened up the doors to volunteers and I successfully applied to join the Games Makers.
There was an interview process in Cardiff followed by training sessions in London before I was able to join the team as what was described as a ‘Flash Quotes Reporter’ with the Olympic News Service and Paralympic News Service.
The events of the summer of 2012 provided enough material for a short book (not actually completed yet!).
Along the way, I interviewed the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, the Brownlee triathlon brothers Alistair and Johnny and a whole host of other international athletes – some medal winners, some distraught at seeing four-years-plus of hard work going down the tubes.
At the Paralympics, I interviewed David Weir, Hannah Cockcroft, Jonnie Peacock and Richard Whitehead.
And, oh yes, I remember now, I also interviewed a South African Paralympic athlete by the name of Oscar Pistorius. But, perhaps, the least said about him, the better . . .
All in all, my summer of 2012 was a massive experience, a privilege to be (almost) on the very inside track of the Games. It was humbling and inspiring at the same time.
So, bitten by the Olympics bug, I decided to see if there was a chance to volunteer for Rio.
Two years ago, I made it through the initial selection process.
Last August, I had a video link interview with the Olympics team based in Brasilia.
There followed some online training tests – and, then, in November of last year I received notification that I’d been accepted.
Initially, more than 1000 UK volunteers were accepted to join the 50,000 volunteers needed for the Rio Games. This week, that number is reckoned to be nearer 500 as some have been forced to drop out along the way.
Games rules mean that I cannot tell you much about my actual role in Rio (well, for now, anyway), but I am able to say where I will be working.
The battle for Olympic medals will take place in 32 venues in Rio de Janeiro, plus five football co-host cities: Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Manaus, Salvador and São Paulo.
In Rio, the competitions will take place in four geographically segregated Olympic clusters: Barra da Tijuca, Copacabana, Deodoro, and Maracana.
Most events will be held in the western part of Rio de Janeiro, in the Barra area, where the main Olympic Park and Olympic Village and many venues are based.
The legendary Maracanã Stadium will stage the opening and closing ceremonies and the decisive matches of the men’s and women’s football tournaments (both finals and one semi-final in each). The iconic venue was modernised for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
‘Rio Soul Lloyd’ (Rio Soul is what they are calling the volunteers) will be based at the Deodoro complex, which includes everything from equestrian events to BMX bike riding.
Specifically, I will be at the temporary Deodoro Stadium, built around an existing polo field, which will host the Rio 2016 rugby competitions, as well as the equestrian and combined running and shooting sections of the modern pentathlon.
I will also be based at the Youth Arena for indoor modern pentathlon events.
In the volunteer game, you can express preferences for what sports you’d like to be involved in, but when tasks are distributed you usually accept what you are given.
So, in my case, it is a happy event indeed to be given work on the rugby sevens tournament, which will include a GB team squad which features Llanelli’s James Davies and travelling reserve Luke Treharne from Llanelli.
Although the 15-player version of rugby appeared at the Olympic Games between 1900 and 1924, Rio 2016 marks the debut of rugby sevens, the faster, shorter adaptation of the game.
The Rio billboards are proclaiming – ‘Bravery, skill and speed will be in abundance in the men’s and women’s tournaments.’
As far as the modern pentathlon goes, well, let’s just say I have a fair bit of homework to do reading up on the sport and the competitors before that event starts at Deodoro.
My current roster sees me working for 11 days of the Olympics, but (as in London) that could change to more days depending on the workload on volunteers.
It won’t all be work and on days off I will get a chance to explore Rio de Janeiro and be a spectator at other events. Obviously, football and the athletics are high on the wish-list for free day activity!
The Games will take place against a backdrop of Rio problems – the Zika virus, a Government crisis, a crumbling oil-based economy, civil service pay strikes, worries about terrorism and fears over crime in Rio.
When you put it all into perspective, my health speed bump pales into insignificance.
Medical approval allowing, I will be reporting back from Rio for the Herald every week.
Fingers crossed that I will make that plane on Sunday!
Tchau!

The Welsh at the Olympics:

Welsh athletes will be competing under the GB banner and the Union Jack flag at the Rio de Janeiro Games, the first Olympics to be held in South America.
The current Great Britain squad in Rio will boast a record number of Welsh athletes at an overseas Olympics.
London 2012 champions Jade Jones and Geraint Thomas lead a 24-strong Welsh contingent spread across 11 sports.
Here are the Welsh athletes who have qualified for the 31st Olympic Games in Brazil (as at time of going to press):
ATHLETICS
Seren Bundy-Davies
400m & 4x400m relay
BOXING
Joe Cordina
Men's lightweight (60kg)
CYCLING
Elinor Barker
Women's team pursuit
Owain Doull
Men's team pursuit
Ciara Horne
Women's team pursuit
Becky James
Women's sprint
Geraint Thomas
Men's road race
JUDO
Natalie Powell
Women's -78 kg
ROWING
Victoria Thornley
Double sculls
Chris Bartley
Men's lightweight four
Graeme Thomas
Quadruple sculls
RUGBY 7s
James Davies
Sam Cross
Jasmine Joyce
Travelling reserve: Luke Treharne
SAILING
Hannah Mills
470 class
Chris Grube
470 class
SHOOTING
Elena Allen
Women's Skeet
SWIMMING
Jazz Carlin
400m and 800m freestyle
Georgia Davies
100m backstroke
Ieuan Lloyd
200m freestyle and individual medley
Chloe Tutton
200m breaststroke
TAEKWONDO
Jade Jones
57kg
TRIATHLON
Non Stanford
Helen Jenkins

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