Diary of an Olympic volunteer part one: David Powles describes his two weeks at the heart of London 2012
So this is it.
All those years of preparation, hour upon hour of training put in by the athletes and million upon millions of pounds spent getting everything ready, comes down to the next 17 days.
At long last, the London 2012 Olympic Games is upon us.
And in a little over two weeks we will know whether it has been worthwhile.
For lovers of sporting drama this is an exciting stage to be at – so many tales of triumph and drama yet to unfold.
But for those tasked with pulling this mammoth event together the nerves must be jangling. I know mine are.
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- 3 Product sold at Tesco recalled due to risk of disease-causing bacteria
- 4 Where you will be able to see the Red Arrows over Norfolk this week
- 5 Landowner to close path after abuse from dog owners letting pets off lead
- 6 Could some Norfolk schools be set for three-day weeks?
- 7 'I couldn't believe it' - West Norfolk villages hit by flash flooding
- 8 Blaze near children's playground in Norwich believed to be arson
- 9 Nine fire crews tackle blaze at industrial estate
- 10 Fire crews to remain at scene of nature reserve blaze overnight
For me, today has been two years in the making. That was when I first decided to apply to become one of the 70,000 gamesmakers.
An application was submitted and interview held before being lucky enough to be chosen to be based in the Olympic Stadium helping to manage the world's photographers.
Before the sport begins, however, there is the small matter of the opening ceremony. On the train to London the nerves don't last long, thanks to something that will become a regular occurrence over the next few weeks for so many people – conversations between strangers on the train.
During the Olympics London's Tube is transformed. Normally people do anything to avoid eye contact, let alone talk to someone else, it becomes the place where strangers discuss the previous day's drama or their hopes for that day.
Tonight a couple lucky enough to have tickets and a performer sit nearby and soon we are all discussing our hopes for the evening.
There's one big talking point, a fantastic secret that Danny Boyle and his team did so well to hide – who will light the Olympic flame?
It's all anyone wants to know, but the gamesmakers haven't been let in on the secret.
Few people reading this will be unfamiliar with the opening ceremony – or what a resounding success it was.
Warm, funny, and amazingly honest, you can't help but feel proud of our green and pleasant land.
To be there is like an assault on the senses. The noise is the first thing that hits you – and several of the older photographers are quick to request earplugs.
So much takes place you simply cannot hope to digest it all. Two eyes just aren't enough.
It's a resounding success. Even the photographers, some of whom have witnessed up to half a dozen Olympic openings, talk of the brilliance and beauty of it.
After such a staggering show, the parade of athletes itself feels like something of an anti-climax and some use this as an excuse to go for a toilet break or get some food.
But the stadium quickly fills once the lighting of the torch begins and the final, brilliant surprise is revealed – that those to light the torch are a handful of aspiring Olympians. A fitting nod to the future after so much looking back.
As they amble around the park, before lighting the flame, it feels like this has been a ceremony to be proud of.
The Games are everywhere
Throughout the event, the Olympic Games consumes London as well as Londoners.
The faces of Team GB stare out from shops, newspaper stands and billboards.
Get on the tube and special pink signs have been erected everywhere to direct people to the right venue.
The road signs point out which lanes are normal and which are Olympic lanes. And as you travel around the city it doesn't take long before you come across either a gamesmaker in that distinctive purple uniform, or a fan draped in the flag of their native country.
And as such, the Games never seem to be far away from people's thoughts.
The sound made when a member of Team GB is introduced to the crowd, or competing, is like nothing I have heard before. A patriotic shrill that makes the ears ring and follows our Olympians wherever they go in their chosen arena.
But what if there are no Brits competing, who do we support then? Well today I found out while watching an early round of boxing bouts at the Excel.
The venue, housed in what is normally a conference centre, is small, intimate and dimly-lit, and has the feel of a proper boxing match.
The Olympians even come on to music and bright flashing lights.
And if there are no Brits competing the crowd turns to the judges, each British one getting a loud, patriotic cheer as their names are read out.
Once the fight is under way, the support normally goes to the fighter from the smallest nation.
Everybody loves an underdog.
Hearing a few thousand chant 'Oteng, Oteng, Oteng' (the brilliantly named Oteng Oteng from Botswana) to the tune of Ole, Ole, Ole or 'Cintron, Cintron' (Puerto Rico's Jeyvier Cintron Ocasio) to the Walk On part of You'll Never Walk Alone, is a surreal experience.
A lot was written about the potential for chaos in London during the Games. The trains would be over-crowded, roads clogged up, and buses unable to provide a good enough service – or so it was predicted.
If anything, however, travel has been much smoother than ever before. The roads have moved freely, helped in part that the apocalyptic warnings meant people looked for other options, the tubes have been busy but frequent and reliable and the buses have coped.
Getting in and out of the venues has been simple, thanks to the numerous signs helping point people in the right directions and the legion of volunteers pointing the way.
Today, we take two friends' daughters, aged seven and nine, from Teddington to Excel for some weightlifting, then over to Greenwich for food before catching the tube to Hyde Park to enjoy the Olympic-themed entertainment there. Potentially it's a recipe for grumpy disaster, but the travel helps make it a breeze.
At last a gold
When will we win a gold medal?
That's the question on everyone's lips. And fortunately it happens today – twice.
Thousands have managed to find time to catch the cycling time trial through Surrey.
The scale of the crowds helps dispel any lingering doubts that this Olympics matters little to the average Brit.
But it also further highlights the crying shame that there are so many empty seats at some of the paid for events.
Wouldn't it have been great to have been able to fill those seats with children, who may have come away inspired by the dedication they saw?
Today families are making the most of the opportunity to see the action – laying out picnics, putting up gazebos and stoking up the barbecue.
Everyone just wants to witness a GB medal – and fortunately the man with the most famous sideburns in Britain does not disappoint.
The Olympic Stadium
Despite its cost, and the fact it is the icon of the Olympic Park, the Olympic Stadium is only used for nine days of the event.
Often the best things come to those who wait, however, and a week since that brilliant opening ceremony the athletics are due to start.
And for me the hard work starts here as hundreds of photographers descend.
My role is to help manage an area of the stadium called the head-on platform – an area near the finish line which can house more than 400 photographers.
There were concerns the Olympic Stadium would lack soul, in the same way as, some argue, Wembley Stadium.
While I'm not a fan of the characterless and over-priced food and snack stalls in the foyer, as you climb the stairs towards the seats, you can't help but gasp at the scale and grandeur of the stadium.
Inside, the Olympic flame burns brightly, no matter what the weather, or what the time of day.
But what really gives the stadium its soul is the people within it and, as with the opening ceremony, the biggest thing that hits you when the events get under way, is the noise.
As the track events unfold, it grows. This is nowhere more true than during the longer races when the high-pitched cheers follow the athletes around the stadium like a Mexican Wave in sound.
For those turning up as paying spectators, an evening in the Olympic Stadium must be an amazing experience.
So much happens at the same time. As the women's shot put takes place, a group of men try to qualify for the pole vault finals, while the 10,000 metres gets under way.
All the while, two commentators try to keep everyone informed.
There are no British medals tonight and it feels very much like a warm-up ahead of what has already been dubbed Super Saturday.
The British flag is everywhere.
People have draped themselves in it, painted their faces or donned the Team GB colours.
That's because today Britain's athletes are predicted, expected even, to launch a gold rush.
And inside the Olympic Stadium there's a buzz about the place, helped somewhat by the fact that poster-girl Jessica Ennis is already well-ahead in the women's heptathlon.
Even the most experienced of commentators are predicting gold is nailed on.
Furthermore, 10,000 metre runner Mo Farah is expected to do well in the final event of the night.
Everything else is overshadowed – even the 100m women's final.
And in the end the gold rush is squeezed into such a small time frame that it goes by in a frenetic, but brilliant, blur. A little over 45 minutes of sheer elation.
Ennis isn't interested in an amble around the stadium, she wants to win the final event and does so with an amazing sprint to cross the line first.
The noise increases and everywhere you look those flags are waving, camera flashes are going off and people are cheering.
Almost immediately Farah enters, warming up in the corner.
The longer races normally take a while to grab people's attention as the athletes get the early laps out of the way, but not this one.
As the huddle of runners pass by, people stand on their feet, clap and holler.
With each lap the volume goes up, then up, then up a bit more.
The fact that Greg Rutherford is about to win gold in the long jump is pretty much unnoticed bar those sat where that event is taking place.
How those people are following the race and the long jump I'll never know.
With a few laps to go it's pandemonium – as frenetic as the section in the opening ceremony with the same name.
There's no chanting, the likes of which you might get in dramatic moments in football, just clapping and that Team GB shrill, the sound of which will live long in the memory.
We are transfixed.
Even those people with jobs to do have come to a standstill for the final stages of this epic race.
And as Farah powers home, raising his hands in victory, the nervous tension of 80,000 British fans is released in one gargantuan cheer.
The celebrations begin and for many the tears are in full flow.
It is nights like this which we'll look back on and realise all of the effort was worthwhile.
Tomorrow: The 100m final, the Olympic Park and yet another Super Saturday.