As the Olympic Movement embarks upon the 10th anniversary of the Olympic Games London 2012, I look back with humility on the opportunity to lead the memorable and successful delivery of the weightlifting competition.
A key metric of the success of any major sporting event is the legacy it leaves behind, and I am immensely proud of the revitalised energy created by the Games for British Weightlifting. In the past 10 years, we can clearly see the impact in terms of elite athlete performance and the renewed popularity of the sport in the United Kingdom.
There, I would reference a series of firsts, including numerous medals, won by British athletes over the last decade at Olympic, World, and European level. Perhaps the most notable of all of these athletic achievements was Emily’s Campbell’s historic Olympic silver in Tokyo, making her the Britain’s first female Olympic medallist in weightlifting.
Following the Olympic Games in London, the IWF said in its magazine World Weightlifting ‘…the preparations, the organisation, the logistics, the atmosphere, the show – everything was perfect…’ and ‘…we have worked for many Olympic Games together with the local organising staff but never before had there been such a tight link between the Technical Delegates, the IWF Secretariat and the Competition Manager…’
Such remarks were of course flattering to hear back in 2012 (as they are still today!) and certainly vindicated the plan, approach, and the overall ethos of the sport team from which I had the great privilege to lead. But how did we achieve such an impact considering Great Britain at the time did not have the same rich weightlifting history as previous Olympic hosts?
The answer was and continues to be the same when managing complex projects: getting the best out of people, creating meaningful partnerships, understanding your target audience, and most importantly – having fun!
In addition to the necessary technical requirements to manage an Olympic competition, I specifically reinforced the ethos of the ‘Games Experience’ at the heart of our planning and our DNA. It was integral to me that everyone connected with the weightlifting competition had the same opportunity to feel the magic of the London Games.
For this, our team developed customer service plans to treat everyone, be it a team coach, technical official, IWF executive, or otherwise, as if they were welcoming a special guest into their own home. This personal approach was so important for us. In addition to the athletes who became London 2012 Olympians, we wanted everyone who helped deliver the event to hold the same value of accomplishment and recognition given the years of dedication, sacrifice, and high-level performance.
So when we received feedback from weightlifting officials such as ‘wow, the volunteer greeted me by name as I entered the competition venue’ – this was certainly not by accident!
Insofar as athlete services were concerned, our mantra was equally as simple. Every single lift needed to be treated as a world record attempt. I made it clear that our job was to ensure every athlete felt like an Olympic Champion, irrespective of their ranking or medal chances. Their Olympic dream was our reality, and it was our responsibility to provide the optimal high-performance environment, free of drama and mishaps, to ensure athletes could perform at their best. The athletes deserved to feel special, unique, and respected because after all, they were, and continue to be the stars of the show.
London 2012 will be remembered for many highlights, but for me, it was the British public that really solidified the impact and truly brought to life the spirit of the Games. For 23 ticketed events, the weightlifting arena was bursting with energy, excitement, admiration, and anticipation, as 6,500 spectators filled every session to experience exciting and exhilarating sport from athletes representing 84 NOCs.
To achieve this level of fan engagement, sport presentation was key. Through venue lighting, emotional and uplifting music, stage design, and an inspirational and informative speaker, we were able to create a spectacle that would live long in our memory. Our assumption was that the majority of fee-paying ticket holders would be attending weightlifting for the first time. To keep them engaged and entertained, not just for the two hours they were in the venue, but for life, we needed to create a show like experience, with the athletes as our leading characters.
The ten days of competition in the summer of 2012 will of course always have a special place in my heart. But to be completely honest, it wasn’t until years later when the IWF adopted a new innovative competition format and qualification system that I fully realized the importance and impact of my London 2012 journey.
Fast forward three years to 2015, when I was the then Director of Sport of the Commonwealth Games Federation. It was here that I conceptualized the first-ever individual athlete qualification system used in weightlifting, recognizing of course until Rio 2016, athlete qualification was primarily attained via the team classification at the two preceding World Championships.
My focus at the time was to develop a qualification system for the 2018 Commonwealth Games with the basis of my research and motivation originating from my experience from London 2012. But more specifically, I looked at the lack of planning certainty when it came to competition scheduling, broadcast timings, workforce and budget management, and the overall services associated with the Games.
Because of the nature of the technical rules, it transpired that there were 10 athletes in one bodyweight category at the London 2012 Olympic Games and 24 athletes in another. By this example, and with this uncertainty, it meant organizers could only forecast the number of sessions to be ticketed – which ended up being 23 sessions – as opposed to the maximum 30 sessions (Group A and Group B) due to the 15 bodyweight categories contested at the time.
In developing the first ever individual athlete qualification system, my concept was to streamline a qualification and competition delivery model that would not only protect and promote global athlete participation but at the same time, reduce budget costs for the 2018 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee. In real terms, it meant all sessions – one athlete per nation, and a maximum field of 15 – could be held within five days, saving Games’ organizers around €4.5 million and presenting a new compact and popular show for spectators.
Predicated against this model, I then had the good fortune to be a member of IWF Sport Programme Commission from 2017 – 2019 that used the same core principles for the first ever Olympic Games individual athlete qualification system – applied for Tokyo 2020 that yielded more athlete qualification quotas in recognition of clean nations, more planning certainty, greater continental representation, and the distribution of more medal-winning NOCs than in Rio despite fewer overall athletes competing. A benchmark that subsequently gained public praise from IOC President Thomas Bach as an example for another summer Olympic IFs.
London 2012 promised to inspire a generation. It promised to put athletes first and grow the popularity of weightlifting to levels never seen before. From my side, it did just that across all measurements. And as our sport approaches a critical juncture, we should look to London 2012 and remember why we have dedicated our lives to weightlifting and the promotion of doping free sport.