THE BLOG
07/30/2012 03:37 pm ET | Updated Sep 29, 2012

Olympic Service With a (Pleasantly Unexpected) Smile

Bashing the London Summer Games is in high form this Olympic fortnight. It's not without at least some justification.

Highway traffic has ranged from impossible to insane. Fairly sparse street directional signage to Olympic events has caused some confusion on London's maze of alleys and avenues. And the sight of huge, empty sections of corporate seating at many Olympics events understandably have left fans wondering where all the tickets have gone.

But it is all being saved by a rather unexpected source -- the Londoners themselves. Almost on their own, local residents of this capital city are creating what may become known as the most-welcoming and joyful event in the century-plus history of the modern Olympic Games.

They are accomplishing this Herculean task by doing something that seems almost un-British: Long considered exceedingly pleasant but famously stoic, Londoners all over town simply are smiling. A lot. All the time.

They seem to be everywhere, decked out in their ubiquitous khakis and rain jackets (and yes, it has rained just about every day this English summer). From street corners and plazas to Tube stations and hotels, the local volunteers are everywhere, and always have welcoming smiles and genuine offers of assistance.

It only appears that every single Londoner has been pressed into service. In fact, it is an army of some 80,000 volunteers -- known around town as the "Games Makers" -- who are making it happen.

"I knew that I would be kicking myself if I did not take this opportunity to volunteer," says London resident Laurence Onikosi, 20, working as a ticket taker at Horse Guard Parade, which hosts the popular beach volleyball competitions. "I have met loads of new, different people from all over the world."

The planning for these volunteers has been years in the making. London resident Danny Risdon, 22, applied for his crowd-assistance volunteer position approximately two years ago. A personal interview followed as the London Olympics Local Organizing Committee whittled down the pack of more than 240,000 applications to the final working group. A series of extensive multi-day training sessions came next before Risdon -- like all of the thousands of other volunteers -- were cleared to work at the Olympics. While this training included the obvious focus on issues such as health and safety, it also involved a reminder to the locals that the world was about to come visit their home.

"During training, they always talked about the 'Olympic spirit,'" says Michael Shaw, 52, transportation volunteer from London. "But you really do not understand it until you see all of these people from all over the world coming together."

And it is that spirit that Londoners have completely embraced. Though it may not seem that the local politicians or top Olympic executives always have their fingers on the pulse of the masses, these Games volunteers certainly do. And they are taking advantage of every opportunity to take it all in and show off their magnificent city.

"Experiencing an atmosphere as exciting as the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime chance," says Onikosi, the Horse Guard Parade volunteer. "With so many countries in our city, it is like having the world at our fingertips."

Students in Lynn University sports management's "Olympic Games Experience" class, currently in London for the Summer Games, contributed to this story. Follow Prof. Ted Curtis and Dr. Chad Barr on Twitter at @LynnUSportsMgmt and on Facebook at LynnSportsManagement.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
We’re basically your best friend… with better taste.