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  • Tuesday Talk -- LOCOG Sport Director on Test Events in Tennis, Equestrian


    Debbie Jevans has been with London 2012 since its bidding days. (Getty Images)
    (ATR) LOCOG director of sport Debbie Jevans tells Around the Rings preparations are exactly where they need to be one year out from the London Olympics.

    Jevans, also a board member of the All England Club and a former Wimbledon juniors runner-up, spoke with ATR just ahead of last week’s year-to-go milestone about recent test events in tennis and equestrian as well as the challenges that lie ahead in this final year until the Games.

    Around the Rings: How did Wimbledon go from an Olympic test event point-of-view?

    Debbie Jevans: Wimbledon went extraordinarily well. It was a great championship, and one thing we clearly know happens is that Wimbledon can run what we think is one of the best tennis tournaments in the world and do so extraordinarily well.

    What we wanted to do is very much test a number of our staff that will be working there at the event in 2012, so we had just over 100 people – not at the same time, at different times – working alongside and shadowing, if you will, the people running the event at Wimbledon, so from a media perspective, an operations perspective, an overlay perspective, catering, etc.

    Our staff worked closely with the on-site staff, and there are massive amounts of learnings that we took from that.
    The All England Club is London 2012's tennis venue, making this year's Wimbledon its test event. (Getty Images)

    After the event, we tested the grass, the reseeding of the area particularly around the baseline of the courts to ensure that they are again in excellent condition when we start three weeks after the Championships, and that went really well as well.

    ATR: Can the grass really grow back in just three weeks?

    DJ: It can, and that’s something that we’ve not only tested this year but tested in previous years with the groundsman Eddie Seward, who is a grass expert. We’ve actually worked with him and we’ve worked on reseeding with a pre-germinated seed. It worked well in 2010, and it worked well in 2011 so there is absolutely no nervousness in that regard.

    ATR: I’ve read that the first time Seward tested re-growing the grass so quickly was for the filming of the 2004 movie “Wimbledon” starring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst. Is that accurate?

    DJ: I don’t know, but that may well be true. You’d have to ask him that, but I know the filming of “Wimbledon” took place very shortly after the Championships, so I would imagine that is true.

    ATR: What scheduling concerns does LOCOG have now that mixed doubles is on the Olympic program?

    DJ: Mixed doubles actually adds, I think, very much to the Olympic program.
    Areas around the baseline get especially worn during the two-week tournament, demanding the grass be regrown before the Games. (Getty Images)

    The number of athletes doesn’t increase, so the mixed pairs are going to be taken from the athletes already on site. We have a fair chunk of time – 10 days – to run the Olympic tennis event. One of those is a contingency day, and then there are days afterwards if necessary, so the mixed doubles itself doesn’t create challenges.

    We’re also only using 10 of the club’s match courts, and of course now with the roof, if there is any inclement weather, we can continue to play matches on Centre Court.

    The addition of a few more mixed matches doesn’t impact LOCOG by way of scheduling and in fact, from our perspective, we think it’s an excellent enhancement to the event.

    ATR: Speaking of the roof, is the full complement of All England Club services available to LOCOG come 2012?

    DJ: Yes, for sure. What happens is we work very closely with the Club and also with the international federation that is based in London itself and has ultimate technical responsibility. So we’ve worked very closely with the two of them, and literally the Club gives us its facilities to run the Games, and giving us the use of its facility includes every aspect, the roof clearly being one of them.

    ATR: In general, what are the biggest test events yet be held, both in terms of logistics and in terms of riskiness – in other words, the test events where you need to see the most go right in order to feel good ahead of the Games?
    The equestrian setup in Greenwich Park is one of many temporary 2012 venues. (ATR)

    DJ: One of the reasons you have a test program is to mitigate risk as well as test your processes and procedures, your workforce, your communications, etc.

    One of the complex events that we had to deliver has actually already happened – the equestrian event at Greenwich.

    We had a facility which is a World Heritage Site, it has such things as active grass, you have the tiltyard where Henry VIII used to joust. There are many things that we had to take care of plus it was a unique way to build a platform because it was built on a slight slope, and we actually did a test some months before in Preston where we found a similar slope and built a platform as a test, so that for many many reasons was a complex delivery for us.

    We built it with zero digs, we didn’t go into the turf at all, and it was very very successful. Yes, we learned some lessons, but that was certainly one that tested us and we learned from that and we know now how wonderful that event’s going to be in 2012.

    If you look forward as to what’s coming up, another complex one would be the Aug. 14 road race.

    By definition, you’re actually having to close a number of roads, you’re going into different boroughs and counties, so for us we close approximately 1,000 roads for a limited time for our road cycling test event. And then you have the communication with radio waves, etc.
    London's road race will end with a sprint down The Mall toward Buckingham Palace. (Getty Images)

    That will be one that will be complex to deliver, but we have an excellent team on board, and it’s been done in partnership with our stakeholders Transport for London, the counties and the boroughs that I’ve spoken to. I’m confident that will be a success, but that’s certainly one that will test us which comes up shortly.

    ATR: As far as I’ve heard, there have been no major problems thus far with any of the test events. Do you take this as a positive sign that London is just plain ready for the Olympics or as perhaps a bit of a negative that maybe LOCOG isn’t looking hard enough to find faults in its preparations?

    DJ: What we’re doing is getting ready, and I think that’s the process. You do the planning, you win the bid, you go into what you said in your bid in minute detail, you do assessments, you agree to an overall masterplan, you do your plans to deliver that and then you put that planning into actual physical testing and modeling, etc.

    Please don’t think that everything has been 100 percent. For example, when we did the Paralympic marathon, there were some turns on that route that we thought would be fine but were actually too tight that we had to change slightly because they’d been unsafe for the athletes, and that’s the level of detail that you’re getting into. Every step of the way, we’re learning things to make sure that we do get it 100 percent right for Games-time.

    I’m confident that our planning has been absolutely diligent, and I value enormously the learnings that we’re taking from our test events. I wouldn’t be arrogant enough in any shape or form to say we’re 100 percent ready now, but what I would say is a year before the Games, we’re exactly where we want to be.

    Interview conducted by Matthew Grayson.

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