Athletics: Woman with a Games plan

After the scandals, there is still an Olympics to prepare. Louise Ramsay will be ready. By Andrew Longmore
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IN THE week backhanding became an official Olympic sport, there has not been much cause for optimism in the ranks of the idealists. For all their rele-vance to the modern Olympic movement, Baron de Coubertin's principles of mind and body might as well have been written on the back of a brown envelope and sold to the highest bidder. Yet the show goes on, and never more purposefully than in a cramped office at the British Olympic Association headquarters on the more elegant section of the Wandsworth one-way system in London.

Few people can have a clearer grasp of the complexities of Olympic preparation than Louise Ramsay, a fresh-faced former lacrosse-stick wielding 30-year- old, who even now has most of the potential British squad for Sydney 2000 taped and measured. To Ramsay, Friday 15 September 2000 is rather more than the start of the XXVII Olympiad, it is the fulfilment of a four-year romance with detail. There is no masochistic counter on Ramsay's desk. "I actually don't like to count the days. They go too quickly," she laughs. Instead, she leafs through the months in her head. "Nineteen to go, sounds further away, doesn't it?" Sam, her faithful assistant, is dispatched to work out the days.

Ramsay is Director of Games Services for the BOA, a suitably vague title for what most would consider an impossible job. She recites her litany of responsibility like a train timetable: clothing, flights, accommodation, accreditation, presentation, communications, freight, transportation. "I just glibly say I'm in charge of all the logistics for the Olympic team and no one usually asks any more," she says. And not just this Olympic team. The planning for the discredited Salt Lake City in 2002 is already in full swing, quite apart from the European Youth Olympics, summer and winter versions, scheduled for later this year, when the role of mother is added to her multi-faceted range of skills for the younger members of the team.

"I do have anxious mothers on the phone wondering about their little Johnnie, but I can understand it. Many have never travelled outside the country before, but they're great. They ask when they have to give their kit back and to see the delight on their faces when they're told it's theirs, they've earned it, that's one of the rewards."

For Atlanta, 36,000 pieces of kit had to be shipped out, in 114 designs. Accreditation for a team not finally selected until six weeks before the start involved filling 6,000 forms in 64 different formats. Not included in the job spec is waking up at 2.30am at the sound of a bomb blast in downtown Atlanta and having to check on the well-being of the team or trawling the cash and carry in Nagano for Marmite and marmalade. Rummage among Ramsay's fund of knowledge and you will learn that canoes have to be taken as "excess hand baggage" because their owners refuse to let them be thrown into the hold, that the packing cases which will transport the equivalent of two BOA offices out to Sydney and the holding camp in Brisbane cannot be made of wood because of Australia's Draconian customs regulations and that the range of sizes to clothe the weediest long-distance runner and the mightiest shot putter stretches from 26 to 60 inch chest and 22 to 50 inch waist. "Quite a wide remit," is her understated description.

Nothing in her academic career, other than being Captain of Games at Queen Anne's School in Caversham and a lifelong devotion to dotting "i's" and crossing "t's", has prepared Ramsay for the role of Olympic fixer. She has A levels in biology and maths and wanted to study sports administration at Trent before an untimely bout of glandular fever forced her to curtail her studies, both clues of a sort. She just has that inbred public schoolgirl unflappability. Things must be just so. "See that," she points to a row of files, which look neat and tidy enough. "The labels are out of line." It is true, one white "Sydney 2000" label is higher than the others. "That's glaring at me, that will be changed," she says. And it will be.

Already the 2000 Games promise to be as smooth as Atlanta was chaotic. The majority of sports are on one site, alongside the Olympic village. Ramsay has established close links with the organising committee and lobbied gently for one of the prime spots in the village. "You need to be close to the transportation area, not too far from the dining area, but not too noisy either. It's a matter of working with the people out there so they know what you want and you understand their problems." That morning Ramsay had met with the manager of the swimming team and made arrangements with the BOA's travel agent for flights between the Games and the state-of-the-art holding camp on the Gold Coast, where most athletes will be based before competition.

"The athletes are preparing themselves more professionally than ever and they expect the same sort of professionalism from me. Standards are more exacting. If I'm flying into Sydney or down from Brisbane, I try to visualise what an athlete might want, more food, supplies of water, comfortable seating. Everything to make their task easier." During the Games, she will work 16-hour days and see little sport.

"My reward is seeing the athletes looking smart and having everything in order. I just love it, I really love it." She smiles with the team and shares their disappointment. But panic is not her style. "The nights get shorter as the Games get nearer, put it that way." Sam returns. 605 days. And counting.