Some terrific, really stand-out memories from my time in Rio for the Olympic Games of 2016. Always nice to reflect upon and often part of my thinking as we now turn our attentions to preparations for Tokyo 2020’s offering. In my role with the UCI as Technical Delegate for the Olympic Games road cycling and before that as a consultant to the Rio 2016 organising committee, there was a considerable amount of time spent working on the Brazilian project.
The work in Rio began in July 2014 for me when I was invited over for a visit to conduct a series of presentations and workshops to discuss road events planning, focusing in on risk management, traffic management, security and communications planning. These were the critical first steps in order to progress the concept of road events from a line on a map to a living and breathing event. The planning of these events required the use of public roads, became a core focus for the organising committee following on from the workshops. There had been some lessons learned from London.
Another key consideration for us at the UCI was local cycling knowledge and expertise. Whilst there had been a handful of road cycling events held in Brazil and specifically, in Rio, they were comparatively low level. This would be a challenge both from the perspective of planning the event across the project management phase but also in terms of the capability of the personnel at event time. We worked with the sport team to help them build a team, deploy the right key personnel at the right time and then complement the Brazilian personnel with event time specialists from Europe and abroad. Important always was getting the balance right between generating a safe and successful event but also achieving a legacy which was certainly a really positive outcome for road cycling in Brazil.
Working closely with the organising committee’s various functional areas, the UCI set about establishing a project planning framework whereby there could be a regular conversation, often remotely and by skype, to ensure that actions were being tracked, planning was progressing and that key priorities from a sport and technical perspective, were being considered. Of course, there always had to be site visits as there is no substitute for face to face conversation and reviewing and risk assessing courses and venues on the ground.
There was considerable focus on the test event, 12 months out from the Games. For an event as complex as the road cycling competition, the delivery of the test event is particularly critical. Reliant on the collaboration of so many people, both within the organising committee and across a broad group of personnel from various agencies, testing the performance of the bigger team and its processes plays a crucial role in preparations.
The test event was telling. It is not about getting everything right and of course, there will be lessons to learn, but it is about prioritising the most important aspects. Delivering the ‘must haves’, sometimes at the cost of some ‘nice to haves’. The ‘must haves’ of sound traffic management planning, route security and a supporting communications structure were all achieved. The teams and athletes had a rewarding experience and got a nice insight into what 2016 might look like. The key is that we provided the important expert insight, identifying those ‘must haves’ and targeting these very specifically across the planning phase.
We focused in on a review of the test event. We targeted the ‘must haves’ and refined and finalised them as part of the ‘Games time’ plan. Then with the organising committee, we began working on the insertion of all of those ‘nice to haves’ into the plan. It is a sometimes difficult role when you are acting as an adviser and not hands on and capable of directly influencing the implementation. The key is to be sensitive to the challenges that the organising committee would be experiencing and in that context work through priorities, document actions and simplify the process as much as possible. Inevitably there are spreadsheets…truckloads of spreadsheets.
The sensitivity and understanding comes from my experience on ‘their side of the fence’. As road cycling manager in London in 2012, I had experienced first hand the challenge of road cycling in a ‘Games’ environment, the robust conversations with road authorities and Police, the internal negotiations, budget troubles, working with and for the UCI as International Federation and then the spreadsheets! Filling the spreadsheets! Ice, what do you mean ice, why would I care how much ice we are going to have at Games time when I haven’t even got confirmation on who is going to close the roads. Lol.
We arrived at Games time in August 2016 and we got most of what we hoped for. Day 1 and 2 of the Olympic Games were the road races, just like London and now in Tokyo, allowing the city to introduce itself to the world by way of helicopter television images. And as we always expected, Rio’s helicopter images, with the golden beaches, lush green forests and silvery blue ocean, made for a stunning backdrop. Technically, exposed coastal roads, steep mountain climbs, technical descents and cobbled roads all made for a sporting challenge like no other. With a Californian coastline, Belgian Bergs, Italian mountain descents and Roubaix cobbles, this was every bit a ‘classics’ course. As was witnessed, we saw arguably the best one-day racing ever, with men’s and women’s road races that packed punch, both as sport and as entertainment, something we had worked so hard to achieve.
As August 2016 rolled on, we were able to reflect on some of the most defining images and stories of a road cycling generation. The bar had been set high for Tokyo 2020.