Tom Degun: London 2012 Games Makers already setting their sights on Rio 2016
Wednesday, 19 September 2012
The reason for my presence there was that London 2012 had chosen it as time and place to unveil the official uniforms for the Games Makers and Technical Officials.
My colleagues in the media and I stood patiently waiting outside the Aquatics Centre, looking towards the Olympic Stadium, when several figures began to walk up the long ramp towards us.
As they came closer, the deep purple and poppy red colour scheme became very clear as we were told that the design of the Games Maker uniform had drawn inspiration from the heritage and culture of the UK.
For my part, I thought it looked pretty good.
But I had no idea at that time that the purple and red would truly become the colour of London 2012 or that the people wearing those uniforms at the Games would embody everything that was so good about these Olympics and Paralympics.
People have often asked me since the Games what my best memory of London 2012 was. They ask me if it was attending all four Ceremonies to open and close the Games, having a front row seat for the 100 metres final, watching Michael Phelps become the greatest Olympian ever, attending the Olympic "Super Saturday" or the Paralympic "Thriller Thursday".
Obviously, they were all very special moments.
But the one that sticks with me most is leaving the Olympic Park late every evening and seeing those delightful volunteers in those red and purple uniforms singing, clapping, high-fiving and wishing every spectator a safe journey home.
Their enthusiasm was so great I often wondered if all 70,000 Games Makers were force-fed a mixture of Red Bull, sugar and Prozac every morning to keep that permanent smile on their face. All the time, I remembered that these people had all given up their time free-of-charge – in the midst of a recession – just to be part of the magic that is the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
I have since read many wonderful stories about individual Games Makers who shun the limelight. There was apparently one volunteer who kindly drove a man all the way to their front door after the public transport system had closed for the night and another who bought diver Tom Daley a box of "pick 'n' mix" sweets, which the 18-year-old says turned around his performance to help him win a bronze medal.
I have even heard of a volunteer who housed the two members of the Burkina Faso Paralympic team who had no pre-Games accommodation.
Then of course, there is the amazing volunteer London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe encountered.
One his way to the Games one morning, Coe sat down on a train next to volunteer Andrew Hartle, a 47-year-old doctor who had treated the victims of the London bombings on July 7, 2005.
So touched was Coe by the story, he bought Hartle along to the Main Press Centre (MPC) to explain their meeting on the train.
"I saw Lord Coe on the train and I wanted to thank him for bringing the Olympics to London, but it was more than that," explained Hartle, who worked as a volunteer doctor for boxing during the Games.
"I treated the victims of the London bombings on 7/7, and I wanted to thank him, because the Olympics have brought closure. I saw the worst of mankind that morning, and now, at London 2012, I've seen the best of mankind."
Quite rightly, the London 2012 volunteers have been recognised for their momentous contribution.
Prime Minister David Cameron has sent a thank you letter all the volunteers that worked on London 2012 in which he writes: "You have not just helped make London 2012 happen, but through the welcome and spirit you have shown, you have put a smile on the nation's face."
It comes after the Royal Mail announced last week that it will be honouring the 70,000 Games Makers with a special limited edition stamp to be released later this month.
But all of this is nothing in comparison to the unforgettable memories London 2012 has provided the volunteers.
"It was the best thing I could have done with my summer," 21-year-old Games Maker Melissa Claridge from Essex told me.
"Getting to witness and be part of the biggest show on earth has given memories I will carry with me forever.
"I had such a great time."
But what exactly is next for this army of volunteers?
The obvious next stop is Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The recruitment process for that begins in January 2013 and Glasgow 2014 chief executive David Grevemberg told me on his recent visit to London that his Organising Committee has already been inundated with requests.
After that, volunteers craving another taste of Summer Olympic magic could take the ambitious step of applying to become a volunteer in Rio in 2016.
Already, there is a Facebook page called "Going to Rio 2016".
It says: "This [unofficial] page is dedicated to all those of us thinking about going to Rio 2016 as either a worker or a fellow volunteer. This was sparked by the great spirit generated when I volunteered as a Games Maker for London 2012."
It is not the only Facebook page with such ambitions and numerous websites are also suggesting an exodus of London 2012 Games Makers to Rio 2016.
I have no doubt they will be welcomed with open arms by Brazil, but unfortunately sending all 70,000 Games Maker from London is rather unrealistic.
The day after London 2012 concluded, I was asked on BBC News if Rio could match London.
"They will struggle to match it," I answered honestly.
This is no criticism of Rio. It is a stunning city with stunning people and they will colour the Olympics and Paralympics with their special blend of carnival and samba.
But they will struggle to match the London 2012 organisation, spectator experience and, above all, the spirit of the volunteers.
Never say never I guess; but the London 2012 volunteers set such a high bar with their warmth, friendliness and can-do spirit that it may never be matched.
That is perhaps what makes the memories of London 2012 that bit more special.
Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.