Lucy Nacson-Jones holding one of the lanterns that lit the way for athletes.
At the Opening Ceremony, 2,500 British students and their teachers welcomed Olympic athletes to the Games as part of the Guard of Honour. The British Council’s Lucy Nacson-Jones joined them.
As millions all over the world tuned in to the Opening Ceremony last Friday, I was lucky enough to be among the action and only metres away from the athletes as they entered the stadium. As part of the Guard of Honour, I stood alongside 2,000 young people and 500 teachers from 250 schools across the UK that took part in our International Inspiration programme and London 2012 Get Set (the official London 2012 education programme). We were all there to form part of the exciting, young and vibrant welcome for thousands of athletes entering the grand opening of the London 2012 Olympics.
For the first ever Guard of Honour, these young people from ages 10 to 14 were selected for their commitment to Olympic and Paralympic values through their active involvement in the London 2012 international and national legacy programmes. Schools that took part in International Inspiration cheered on their partner countries whilst Get Set school students cheered on the teams they had spent months researching. All 204 of the competing nations had someone there to support them, and what a welcome they received!
The children spent a whirlwind day enjoying an exclusive tour of the Olympic Park and basking in the delights of all its impressive venues. For many this was their only opportunity to visit the park, so they were able to get a real taste of the Olympics and feel the anticipation of the Games echoing around the Park.
Later that evening as the world warmed up for the Ceremony, the Guard of Honour lined the athletes’ path with glowing lanterns in tow and wonderfully artistic homemade banners that were evidently a product of hours of thought and effort. We cheered and laughed with the athletes as they walked the parade. The athletes themselves were overwhelmed by their welcome and were lagging behind for pictures with their supporters. Not one team was left unsupported.
Alongside colleagues from the British Council, London 2012, UK Sport, Youth Sport Trust (YST) and UNICEF, we formed a team of over a hundred to support the tricky logistical delivery of the day, led by the London 2012 team. Perhaps the most challenging part of the day was trying to coordinate 2,500 people in the parade itself and ensuring their exit of the park before the 80,000 spectators beat them to it, but with all efforts combined, we managed it.
The children were buzzing from seeing Team GB up-close and took pride in boasting their graffitied t-shirts, covered with autographs from the likes of Tom Daley and Usain Bolt. Despite what must have been an exhausting day, the children were animated with excitement the whole evening, and this reverberated throughout the parade.
The success and positive attitude that exuded all day from the Guard of Honour team was testament to the various programmes that have formed part of the London 2012 Olympic Legacy, with International Inspiration playing an important role in this on both a national and international level. Just seeing the schools supporting their link schools in the context of their home country was a very special moment. Working closely with our partners highlighted the shared vision we have of not only bringing the Games closer to young people but also inspiring future generations in sport.
What this day underlined was that the Olympics are not just about sport, but rather a platform to celebrate the culturally diverse country and city we live in. Using the language of sport, people everywhere around us, from all nationalities and backgrounds, forged new connections and celebrated together. To have so many young people supporting athletes from all over the world was exhilarating and inspiring and generated an atmosphere to make any cultural organisation such as the British Council proud.
Although we did not actually manage to see any of the Opening Ceremony itself, the excitement of just being at the Olympic Park and sharing it with the real benefactors of our programmes was a truly memorable experience that no other Olympics could beat. Take note, Brazil!