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Going for the Gold

By Hpanchal on January 27, 2012

This July, more than 10,000 athletes, 21,000 media representatives and 800,000 spectators will descend on the UK for 19 days of competition in which 205 countries will compete in 300 medal events in 26 sports at 34 separate venues. The 2012 Olympics will surely be a significant logistical challenge, yet even more has been going on behind the scenes than practiced logisticians may imagine.

One million pieces of sports equipment and 250,000 items of athletes’ luggage are involved. All must reach the right person in the right place at precisely the right time. UPS, the official logistics and express delivery supporter, expects to have handled 30 million items in total by the end of the event.

The company is providing collection and delivery of everything from documents to heavy freight, as well as freight forwarding, Customs clearance, warehousing, distribution and courier services before, during and after the games. This includes logistics services for venues and competitors’ villages, and “special-event” logistics for the cross-UK torch relay and for the medals ceremonies.

“A number of companies pitched for part of the job — for example, freight forwarding or Customs brokerage — but for LOCOG [the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games], it was all or nothing. From then on, it was a shortlist of two,” says Alan Williams, UPS director, London 2012 sponsorship and operations.

Some of the more colorful freight movements are highlighted on UPS’ website — such as supplying swimming goggles from Greece, boxing gloves from India, canoes from Canada and table tennis balls from Uzbekistan. That’s the straightforward stuff. Other, less-apparent duties include a requirement to deliver and fit specialized flooring. North Greenwich Arena 1 (normally the O2 arena, but renamed for the Olympics to screen out the non-sponsoring mobile phone company’s brand) requires 80,000 square feet of floor for the gymnastics competitions.

The Olympic Delivery Authority is responsible for building the venues, including seating and the base concrete floor. But LOCOG — and, in turn, its chosen logistics service provider — has to outfit each site with electronic timing and scoring equipment, press and back-office facilities, boxing rings, basketball hoops — essentially anything portable.

Olympic stadium

Changeovers at multi-purpose venues will be specially demanding, Williams says. For example, the company will have just 17 hours after the gymnastics events finish to lay a new floor for the final stages of the basketball events. In another massive, behind-the-scenes task, 10,500 flat-packed bedroom units, including beds and furniture, formedpart of a consignment of 450 40-foot containers that sailed across from China and Malaysia in October. Forty people are unpacking and assembling these on site at the athletes’ villages. The leased units will have to make the return journey after the games for eventual resale or reuse.

Despite UPS’ lengthy experience — it handled small-package deliveries at Atlanta in 1996, the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano and the Sydney games in 2000, while running the complete logistical show in Beijing — the company nevertheless learned a lot during a series of test events over the last 11 months.

“There were areas where we’ve had to change processes and procedures,” Williams says. “We had worked out what space and how many people we needed to unload the basketball flooring, but when we made the delivery, it was pouring with rain. The material is highly susceptible to that, so we realized we needed another level of planning.”

More difficult to foresee were the riots that broke out in London, then more widely across the UK, last August. “We were active with trials in several venues, and it changed what we could and couldn’t do,” Williams says. “We were within 36 hours of the cycling road race [which tours the Surrey countryside, but starts and finishes in The Mall in central London], and we’d already had 100 miles of specialist crowd barriers delivered in.

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