Gareth Goh has the sort of summer job most 16-year-olds could only dream of: piloting around a bumper-sized remote control car in front of 80,000 people, with the world’s best athletic competition to keep you occupied during breaks.Goh’s task, which admittedly is unpaid, is to be one of the Games volunteers tasked with controlling the quarter-scale electric Minis that whizz around the central area of the Olympic stadium, returning javelins, shots and discuses to competitors.
While the days are long and the responsibility great—no one wants to be remembered as the volunteer whose car careened onto the track during a race—there is the bonus that the field events tend to pause during the noise of major running heats and finals.
“I was there for Super Saturday, and for the 100m final on the Sunday. We get the best view you can,” said Goh, one of 10 Sutton grammar school pupils working inside the stadium. “It’s been pretty amazing. Some of my friends were a bit jealous at first, but we’re trying to share out the job at the stadium so everyone gets to do it.”
If Goh is feeling happy with his lot, so is BMW, which owns the Mini marque and is one of the official sponsors of the Games. Marketing experts are agog at the way BMW’s ad people have managed to get such a recognisable product—albeit a scaled-down one—inside the Olympic Stadium, supposedly a product placement-free zone.
The International Olympic Committee’s charter would seem to be quite clear, stating in rule 50 that “commercial installations and advertising signs shall not be allowed in the stadia”. The IOC has passed the use of the cars as they carry no specific branding. Nonetheless, the IOC’s television and marketing director, Timo Lumme, conceded at a press conference, that “you can recognise it’s a Mini”.
If that wasn’t enough, the “mini Minis”, as they are inevitably called, have proved a hit with spectators and the media, giving BMW extra payback for their estimated £40m deal with the 2012 Games. The coup is all the greater given the more hostile spectator reaction to some actions by primary sponsors, for example Visa’s decision to bar the use of any other cards at Olympic venues while plastering kiosks with the unlikely-sounding slogan, “Proud to accept only Visa”.
Goh’s involvement came last year when, spurred on by his father, who had already volunteered, he organised a group of fellow pupils to apply to be “junior Games makers”. Before he arrived at the Olympic Park he had little idea of what his duties might involve: “On our first day in the stadium one of the officials asked if we could nominate someone for a particular task. Because it had been my idea to get the team together, they picked me.”
He had the other remote-control operators had less than 15 minutes training to use the cars, he said: “They’re pretty straightforward—the controls are just forward and backwards, left and right. You’re really just running them up and down the field. I’ve not had any mishaps yet, though someone else did run his Mini into an official. They didn’t seem to mind too much
“The only problem can sometimes be remembering which is yours, because they look identical. A couple of times I’ve wondered why mine isn’t moving and realised I’m looking at the wrong one—you need to concentrate quite hard.”
It’s not the only significant event for Goh this summer: on 23 August his GCSE results arrive. He said: “At least this has helped to keep my mind off it.”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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