Matthew Sheahan touches down and prepares for the biggest sporting show on earth

 Just seconds after disembarking the 747 in Auckland back in Sept 2002, the first thing I saw was a backlit poster for the America’s Cup. A few minutes later I was walking past a full sized America’s Cup boat in the car park before America’s Cup banners lining the route into town, streamed past the windows of the taxi for the first few miles along the highway. Impressive stuff for sailing I thought, a big event in a country that was clearly and fully behind it. But not even the America’s Cup prepares you for the size and scale of the Olympics. Instead, the world famous match race series feels more like a school sports day by comparison.

From the minute you walk through the airport you’re greeted by hundreds of brightly clothed officials, herding the various groups of people flocking into Athens towards the correct channels and holding areas. There are footprint markings and arrows on the floor and walls throughout the airport guiding you every step of the way and the famous five rings are everywhere. Outside, the fleet of Olympic buses alone would dwarf the bus station in my home town and the air of excitement and anticipation matches that outside the main gates of any of the world’s outdoor music festivals.

Greece may have had its problems building the infrastructure for the Olympics and in many places the concrete’s still wet, but when you see first hand the scale of the event it’s easy to see why. Having won the right to host it, the greatest show on earth starts before a shot put or javelin has even been thrown. The main press centre alone is 52,000m2, the size of a big shopping mall and is spread over seven floors. In just one of the areas there are 800 dedicated workstations for journalists. Trying to find where your pass is and collect all the relevant information, is as disorientating an experience as your first day at University.

Fortunately you don’t feel alone as when it comes to the number of accredited press, the total is well over 5,000 people, many of them clueless as to where they’re supposed to be and how they can get there. Compare that to a big IBM site near you and you get a feel for the scale of this event.

Fortunately for most of the sailing hacks, the regional press office is down by the sea in Glyfada, away from the heat, pollution and grid-lock of Athens itself. Here the marine press corps have more modest facilities along with a cool(ish) sea breeze that keeps the edge off the heat which the book says is a mean 32 degrees C. The fact that I gasped for air every time I emerged from the air conditioned press office suggests to me that an average temperature is only a guide.

And when it comes to the Olympics, so too is any other event I may have been to. This really is the greatest show on earth.