Olympic Fever

In case you’re wondering if I have done any more volunteering since the Princess Diana Dinner/Dance Ball on October 31, 1996, the answer is yes!  And as the countdown to the London Olympics moves swiftly towards the Opening Ceremony I thought I would share with you my Sydney Olympics experience.

One fine day, just a few months before the Opening Ceremony Carl and I, having no tickets to any of the many events, were asked if we’d like to volunteer as Placard Bearers.

‘As what?’ I asked.

‘Placard bearers’, she said, ‘You know, where you carry the country’s name on the end of a long stick and you lead the country into the stadium and stand with them on the Field of Play’.  Carl and I hadn’t managed to secure tickets to the Opening Ceremony in the ballot and couldn’t afford them even if we did, so being on the Field of Play during the Ceremony sounded like the next best thing.  I didn’t want to admit I’d never previously taken any notice of the placard bearers and their mighty role so hid my ignorance and gave an enthusiastic and confident affirmation that we would love to volunteer.

My Olympic Hat. Some athletes offered me money for those rings but I couldn't sell them!

We were sent to a meeting at Olympic Park that was almost two hours away from where we lived and after a lot of waiting around Carl found out he would be leading Bahrain into the stadium and I was told I would be leading Bangladesh.  After this first meeting there were many rehearsals we had to endure that were all on cold winter’s nights and we wouldn’t be back home until around midnight.

Finally it was the night of the dress rehearsal.  We hadn’t at this stage seen much of what would take place at the Opening Ceremony because it was so top secret but on this night we were given a privileged glimpse into what would occur.  After the Placard Bearers had led all the athletes (pretend athletes) onto the Field of Play we then had to join hands and create a human wall that effectively kept the athletes within an area and made pathways through the Field of Play.

I was standing on the ground absolutely frozen with the cold night’s air and my hands were almost numb and I was dressed in the uniform that was unisex and looked good only from a distance.  By sheer surprise John Farnham and Olivia Newton-John came on stage to rehearse the song they would sing, Dare to Dream.  At a certain point in the song they came down off the stage and onto the Field of Play and walked across the brown flooring that had been installed for the opening ceremony.  They were walking separately and John Farnham came over to me and out of a sea of people, grabbed my hands.  His hands were nice and warm, (he must have been waiting backstage in a Green Room), and I think he was shocked that mine were so cold.  Olivia was wearing high heels and just after John had grabbed my hands she tripped and fell to the ground and as John said, ‘She was wearing pretty much a hanky’.  John rushed away to help her to her feet and both of them just kept singing like nothing untoward had occurred.  At the performance at the Opening Ceremony John took Olivia by the hand and led her down the stairs and across the Field of Play.

I watched this video for the first time today and couldn’t believe it because at 2.54 seconds I’m on the video broadly grinning (because I can’t believe I’m actually at the Opening Ceremony), as John Farnham walks by me.  I’m on the left of the screen wearing red.

Now, there were lots of rules to being a Placard Bearer.  One was that we weren’t allowed a camera and I abided by this rule but as you can see from the video no one else did and we weren’t allowed to approach certain well-known athletes and ask to be photographed with them etc.

Ian Thorpe, one of Australia's greatest swimmers. Waiting to enter the stadium just before the closing ceremony.

At the closing ceremony the rules hadn’t changed but the atmosphere was a lot more relaxed so I took a camera that I hid down the front of my uniform (they were purpose made without pockets), and managed to sneak a few images.  I’m sorry the images are so atrocious but the only camera I could hide was an instant camera and as you know, the quality of the images is appalling.

New Zealand Olympian, Rob Waddell, Gold Medal winner for the Men's Single Skulls in Rowing. He was the only Kiwi to win a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. (He's about 6"9)

It was such an honour and a thrill to be involved in the Sydney Olympics and I if London wanted me I would do it all again.  What a privilege to be amongst the world’s very best athletes.

I can’t wait for the London Olympics but this time, I’ll be watching the events from my lounge room on TV – great, but not exactly the same.

Where were you for the Sydney Olympics?

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  1. I saw you in the video! What a shame I didn’t know you then, or I might have even seen you on television as I usually watch the opening ceremonies.

    Are there any other celebrity encounters you haven’t told us about?

  2. What a crazy fun experience! I always thought the people who led them in were from that country. Learn something new everyday. 🙂

  3. Magnolia Verandah says:

    What experiences we have in our lives – such great stories to hand down to our children.

  4. How fun! I remember watching the Sydney Olympics. They were great!

  5. What a wonderful opportunity.

  6. What a terrific opportunity for you and Carl–and a nice memory to share.

  7. You’ve had some great adventures with your volunteering. If I remember correctly you also ran into an old boyfriend volunteering at a charity event. Have you ever met Sara Henderson in your travels? I’ve read all her books and was so inspired by her story.

  8. Fantastic experience and shows that rewards come to those that put themselves forward and volunteer!

  9. Another great story Charlie, I loved seeing you in the opening ceremonies, it must have been one of those UNFORGETTABLE experiences! And to have your photo with all those wonderful athletes too, you are indeed the envy!
    The closest I’ve ever come to the Olympics is when we were in Atlanta (combining business for me and our 10th wedding anniversary) we were given tickets to the Stadium Commemoration Ceremonies, Vice President Al Gore gave the opening speech. It was about a 100°F, the seats in the stadium were dark blue — our bottoms were on fire! VP Al Gore must have been burning up giving his speech in a navy suite. We went for brunch afterward in a well air conditioned restaurant.
    PS You looked great in your uniform!

  10. Yes, there you are in the video! How wonderful, Charlie. Such a wonderful opportunity and then memory! I have nothing quite like it to share, and think it would have been incredible. I’m not a “sports” enthusiast, per se, but I put the Olympics in an entirely different category and fully enjoy them. I’m a little concerned about how we are going to be “fed” the London ceremonies and games. Because of the vast time zone difference, I think the networks are going to pick and choose, and we will probably have little viewing discretion. Maybe we can find mroe on-line. But what a great memory and your lovely smile tells it all! So glad you shared! I agree with Eva…you looked great! Debra

  11. What a great way to experience the Olympics, and worth it for the hat alone, I’d say.

  12. What an amazing story, Charlie. You get invited to the greatest shindigs 🙂

  13. This is soo cool! You famous person you with your tv appearances with JF and ONJ 😀
    This is a fantastic story which had me grinning the entire time!

    Choc Chip Uru

  14. How sneaky hahaha and how lucky he grabbed your hand!! You always have amazing experiences!!

  15. You have the best stories. 🙂

  16. Hi,
    Wow, that is just great, what a way to experience the opening Olympics, and to be able to be so close as well to these two great performers, a truly magical experience, and you even got in the video. 😀
    It was great that you were able to sneak in a couple a photos as well, what a wonderful experience that you both had.

  17. Wow, that’s a cool experience – what a memory as well… that’ll be something to tell the grandchildren one day!

  18. What a beautiful memories and exciting experience.. Thank you dear Charlie as always you did a great post again. Love, nia

  19. We had the Winter Olympics here.. it’s an incredible experience.. Their song was so filled with optimism as they always are! I usually download those songs because they inspire me so much. It was cute to see you there with your big smile!! xo Smidge

  20. What a big moment Charlie – so exciting! I saw you in the video – twice in fact. thanks for these two great stories.

  21. What a trooper! What a terrific experience too, and I love that you had the spunk to smuggle in a camera 🙂
    We watched the opening ceremony at a 5 star hotel, eating fancy canapes and scoffing alcohol. It was our 10th anniversary and we pulled out all the stops for once!

  22. wow! lucky 2 brush with so many celebrities… love that hat!

  23. Oh, I’m so jealous of this experience! As the post I have scheduled for tomorrow will suggest, I love the Olympics and can’t wait for the London ones. What a great experience to have been involved in.

  24. Great photos and a great story – thanks for sharing your memories with us.

  25. What a once in a lifetime experience! Your outfit has a Texan look to it! 🙂

  26. Oh … I remember seeing you during this event, I just forgot to tell you! 😉 … Thanks for sharing the great moment.

  27. WOW! I’ve never known anyone who participated in the Olympics before. And you have video proof, to boot. It must’ve have been an exciting time for you and all of Sydney. I wish Chicago hadn’t lost its bid for 2016 but, what can we do? Thanks for sharing so special a moment, Charlie.

    • hotlyspiced says:

      That such a shame Chicago lost its bid because I’m sure you would have done an amazing job hosting the Olympics. It really is a once in a lifetime experience to host the Olympics in your own home town. It brings such a wonderful atmosphere to the host city and there are so many advantages it’s such a shame when the Closing Ceremony draws the occasion to a close xx

  28. Wow ! Imagine if you didn’t have this blog you may never have found that video ! And what a great outfit. I love that your hat is still pristine. Thorpey looks a bit scared though….

  29. Amazing experience! I’ve volunteered at World Vision for the past 4 years but never have I met any cool people like Ian Thrope or Princess Diana hahahaha maybe I’m volunteering in the wrong places? So jealous Charlie!

  30. Philippa says:

    I remember watching the opening ceremony and seeing you! Great memories and probably worth the cold…?

  31. The Sydney Olympics were so much fun weren’t they. There was such a wonderful vibe in the city.

  32. Wow! What an unbelievable experience for you! And you looked fabulous, smiling beautifully, in the video 🙂

  33. I completely forgot about the olympics until tonight!

  34. Very very cool.

  35. I would be so obnoxious, hounding them for work out tips!

  36. You have lived one rich life so far Charlie! What a great experience!!!

  37. That’s such a great story… and what a wonderful opportunity to be part of the Olympics. I’m originally from Atlanta, GA and we held the 1996 Olympics. I was pretty young (15) when the Olympics happened, but I have very fond memories of going to see the diving and the baseball with my whole family. I’m really looking forward to watching the Olympics this summer.

  38. I think it is great you volunteer:) I went to see handball in Sydney; France Vs Sweden or something. The team that wasn’t France had viking hats….

  39. Volunteering once more! And once more it sounds so much fun!

  40. What a fun experience to have watched the Olympics from the inside. I can’t even remember where I was during the Sydney Olympics, but I sure followed them from somewhere. Going to London this year would be fun – but, yes, it’s an expensive experience.

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