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Sat, 28 November 2020

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Tessa's three weeks in the Olympic Village

Tessa's three weeks in the Olympic Village
3 min read

Labour's Shadow Olympics minister Dame Tessa Jowell MP says her decision to live in the athlete's village during the Games 'really divided opinion'.


When I told people that I had been appointed as part of the Mayoral team for the Athletes Village during the Olympics I realised that the world divided in two. On the one hand, I received looks of disbelief and cries of “you must be crazy”, and on the other hand whoops of envious glee at living in the engine room of this great Olympic organisation. Needless to say my joy was unbounded at receiving this unexpected appointment. For the first time in 30 years, I even had a job description!

I lived in the village for over 3 weeks, coming home just once to do some washing. Every day I worked with other members of the Mayoral team: Charles Allen, Duncan Goodhew and Tony Hall, together with our Junior Mayors, young Londoners, to ensure that everything possible was done to give the athletes of all 204 competing nations the best possible place to live. The size and scale was daunting and on Super Saturday the catering staff served 60,000 delicious meals representing the cuisine of almost every country in the world.

The first week was mostly filled with welcome ceremonies for arriving athletes and I presided over about 16 in total covering about 64 countries sharing my responsibilities with my other Deputy Mayors. Each welcome ceremony combined medieval street theatre and a Queen revival, performed with verve, joy and excellence by the National Youth Theatre. Even temperatures of some days of 30 degrees did not deter them.

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My favourite times were the early mornings, walking round the village collecting coffee from Florence at her grab and go kiosk - breakfast on the run for athletes eager to get to training - and then watching the Cuban boxers going through their paces and the Chinese gymnasts stretching on the lawn. Appreciating the swoosh as a long distance runner appeared and then disappeared shortly afterwards and of course almost always Mo Farah - hood up, 'Beat' union jack headphones on, gearing up for his moments of extraordinary achievement.

It was thrilling to casually encounter the athletes, who tend to be rather private and reserved before they compete. On one day I walked into the flats and saw a tall red-haired athlete dressed in his Team GB kit. I walked up to him and said "you're going to the stadium?" "Yes", he replied, "to compete in the long jump." I wished him good luck and squeezed his hands. Two hours later, Greg Rutherford was the Olympic long jump champion.

I will never forget what I learned, saw and was privileged to be part of in those weeks. Congratulations and thanks to all who made the village the success it was, and to the Athletes Commission chaired by Jonathan Edwards who had a seven year vision so perfectly translated into a thousand points of detail.

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Connecting Communities

Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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