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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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The view from here: our men on the Olympics

We have heard much about the Olympic experience from the athletes’ perspective.

Charlie Burgess photo
Charlie Burgess

Gold medal or no medal, we know about the sacrifices required to reach sport’s loftiest stage.

But what about those behind the scenes who helped the show run so smoothly?

Among their number was Charlie Burgess, a Cumbrian journalist who helped found The Independent and is now managing editor of The Journalism Foundation.

Until last week, he was also an Olympic volunteer.

Charlie told The Times that putting on the uniform – a purple and red zip top with a gold button on each shoulder – made him feel like “a refugee from Billy Smart’s circus”.

But he wore it with pride.

Charlie was based at the Olympic Stadium, getting quotes from athletes.

“When Phil Jones, the delightful BBC trackside commentator, bagged an athlete one of us would kneel just out of camera and take down the quotes.”

The question Charlie has been asked most often is: “Did you get to meet Usain Bolt?”

The answer is: “Nearly.”

Shortly before Bolt’s gold rush in the 100 metres final, Phil Jones interviewed steeplechase winner Ezekiel Kemboi. Charlie had to rush off and file those quotes, meaning he watched Bolt on TV.

But he and his fellow volunteers savoured their experience.

“Many of my 70,000 colleagues stood outside or minded a door and never saw anything, but all felt it worthwhile.”

The wave of goodwill towards the nation’s athletes seems to have led to a backlash against our footballers.

The customary criticism of “overpaid prima donnas” has been louder than usual.

The loutish behaviour of some footballers does not compare favourably with the demeanour of athletes like Jessica Ennis and Sir Chris Hoy.

Cumbrian author Hunter Davies is a football fan.

But he feels some players deserve the vitriol.

“Footballers should be embarrassed and ashamed, absolutely. It’s not a fair comparison [with Olympic athletes] but we are all just so fed up with the amount of money they are paid.

“Their behaviour on the whole is so bad, so arrogant, they keep saying that should be respected.

“But they are rubbish, they [the England team] haven’t won anything.”

Lack of self-awareness is among some footballers’ biggest sin.

Chelsea and England defender Ashley Cole revealed in his autobiography that he nearly crashed his car when his agent called to tell him that Arsenal were offering him a mere £55,000 a week.

Cole fully expected his audience to sympathise with such an insulting sum.

Roll on Rio, 2016.

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