Swim England

A nation swimming

A behind-the-scenes look at life in Tokyo as an Olympic Games official

It was an Olympic Games like no other … and Swim England and British Swimming official Helen Akers got to experience it at close quarters.

Here Helen gives a behind-the-scenes look at what life was like for a swimming official during Tokyo 2020.

21 July 2021

Having been double jabbed and testing negative for the last three days, and after many, many will it/won’t it moments, I am finally in Tokyo. 

A couple of hours at the airport for more testing and numerous checks of the Japanese tracing app, and then the same again to find transport and reach the hotel.

Having been travelling for close on 24 hours, I headed straight to the restaurant to find that I was the only person there. A bit unnerving being observed by all of the staff but they couldn’t have been more helpful.

Dining room

22 July 2021

First of our masked and gloved breakfast services, but at least this is buffet style so you can pick and choose.

Later in the day, it was off to the pool for the officials’ briefing. My accreditation wouldn’t work at the checkpoint, leading to me being be lead away by security staff which apparently caused some consternation amongst my colleagues. 

In fact, I was taken to the Accreditation Office to activate my pass and made it to the briefing in time for the PCR testing!!

We finally got out first look at the venue, although like always it will take several visits to actually find our way around.

Because the United Kingdom is on Japan’s high-risk list, I am not able to visit the Uniform Centre tomorrow. However, it has been collected for me and all fits fine – a bit of surprise given that the measurements pre-dated lockdown.

23 July 2021

New pre-breakfast routine – take your temperature and record it in the app, then spit in a test tube for your PCR test. On the plus side, it doesn’t involve sticking something up your nose every day.

The lack of spectators and restrictions on our movements means that we will have no access to purchase souvenirs. Handily there is a web shop that delivers in Japan so everyone has been busy on there – so busy it has now crashed but, hopefully, it will be back soon for those who missed out.

Decided to order some food from Uber Eats. Whilst the hotel is doing its best, there is a very limited menu.

Tonight was the Opening Ceremony but, despite my best efforts with VPNs and the like, I have been unable to find any coverage with a commentary in English. Still very atmospheric and moving though.

24 July 2021

Because we are having evening heats and morning finals, this morning was free time. I had an explore of the hotel gardens, before getting ready for the first session.

A very strange experience to be in such a large venue with only swimmers and staff as spectators – imagining the electric atmosphere if it had been full is actually quite sad.

25 – 30 July 2021

Days have settled into a routine that we all know well, even with the differences specific to this event. 

Breakfast, bus, pool, bus, lunch, bus, pool, bus, snack, sleep – and repeat. By the end of the week, I am starting to get what I assume are loyalty emails from Uber Eats!

Usual distribution of roles. After starting out as Chief Inspector of Turns on the first day, I am now rotating ends of the pool and lanes as Inspector of Turns. No phones on poolside during the event but we are all being sent pictures from home of the TV coverage.

Plenty of excellent racing for Team GB but as you are always focused on your role, it is quite usual to not realise until after the session what you have actually witnessed.

In our downtime, it is possible to watch the venue feeds of the various sports and you can often pick up the live commentary and announcements to add value. 

It is a shame that we are not able to visit any other venues to see the sports “in the flesh” but we are all happy to make whatever sacrifices are necessary for the Games to be able to take place in the safest possible way.

I have been sharing my Twitter feed with my club at home and have gathered new followers. Interestingly my most popular post has been a picture of the lost property table – reflecting that it doesn’t matter what level they swim at, swimmers still can’t look after their belongings!

1 August 2021

Last day of competition today and my first (and only) day in the call room. Very few events, all finals, so quite relaxed in the first call room as they rapidly moved on.

Got the opportunity to sit in the coaches’ stand and actually just watch the swimming and presentations – and nabbed some behind-the-scenes shots of the medals.

Afternoon spent packing. Atmosphere is a bit flat as people are already starting to leave – we were asked to leave as soon as we could after the competition finished and some people don’t have a wide choice of flights. 

Due to changes in the rules, I won’t have to quarantine when I get home but my colleagues from down-under are facing a further two weeks confined to hotels.

2 August 2021

Last breakfast in the hotel was very quiet, although other sports are now arriving to take our place for the second week.

A steady stream of pre-arranged taxis to the airport leaving the hotel as strictly no sharing allowed. Greeted at the airport by ranks of waving volunteers, who have been nothing but polite and helpful throughout our whole stay.

The flight home was much busier, and sharing with athletes from many disciplines certainly added to the atmosphere.