Shannon’s Olympic experience

WHILE the population of Coleraine was glued to its TV screens watching the medal-winning performances of Messrs. Chambers, Chambers and Campbell, perhaps not many realised that a young Coleraine WOMAN was playing a pivotal role in the Olympic rowing events.

21-year-old Shannon Reynolds, daughter of Bann Rowing coach Seamus, was one of the volunteer helpers working at the start and finish lines of the races at Eton Dorney.

Having applied for the position two years ago, Shannon was asked in her application form to list three sports at which she was interested in volunteering.

“I wrote rowing, rowing and rowing,” she laughed.

“Then I gave loads of reasons why I wanted the rowing so that might have helped, as I was given an interview out of the 250,000 who applied.

“I was then sent to a test event which was the World Junior Championships at Eton Dorney last year.

“The team that worked there was told on the spot that we did so well that we would definitely be working at London 2012 but that still wasn’t considered to be official so it wasn’t until October that I heard officially that I had been chosen.”

Shannon was working on the start and finish team - a role which brought with it immense pressure and responsibility.

“Unlike other volunteers who were simply involved in transport for the athletes, we had first hand contact with the rowers and their equipment, so we had to know what we were doing.

“Lining up the boats at the start, you are aware that these races can be won or lost by a matter of centimetres so there was real pressure on us to be really particular.

“You might have been getting instructions in your ear-piece telling you to move a boat back by five millimetres.

“You were just so aware that if you were not holding the boat perfectly and they lost by a few centimetres, that’s their Olympic dream taken from them.

“It was when I got here that I really realised this is the moment these rowers have spent their lives training for so there was huge pressure on us.

“People watching the rowing on the TV maybe just thought, because the start/finish team was all so young, that we were just there for the crack. I don’t think people realised that we were all rowers who had to know what we were doing.”

Shannon, who rowed at Bann up until she was 17, said that while the atmosphere around the whole Olympic area was fantastic, the silence during the race starts was incredibly well respected and observed.

“When we were lying flat down holding the boats at the start of the races, it was so silent that it felt like it was just you, the rowers and the starter but things changed when you were near the finish line!”

Despite maintaining the utmost professionalism during the races, Shannon admits that one episode during the early stages of the heats was a particular highlight.

“I was working on the starts and there were rowers coming into the six different lanes.

“Then I heard the voice in my earpiece telling me that I was about to meet ‘rowing royalty’ and New Zealander Mahe Drysdale arrived in my lane. I nearly died!

“Then on Friday, I was working on the media pontoon so it was fantastic to be the first to have contact with him [after he won a gold medal] when he arrived on the pontoon having held his boat in his first heat.”

But of course, having three Coleraine oarsmen competing in the Olympics, you would imagine that Shannon would be first to volunteer to work in the starting lanes for the Chambers brothers and Alan Campbell.

“Absolutely not.

“I actually asked NOT to start any of them. I had seen them all in the boathouse a few times but I just got a chance to say a quick hello as we were working and they were being ushered away.

“And I saw them coming off the water but I made sure that I wasn’t working on their lanes because I was so nervous that even the slightest distraction, like looking up and seeing a face from home, could put them off.

“I asked to work at the finish those days. We were all supposed to stay quiet through the whole race but once the Chambers boys came to the finish line, I let a roar out of me! It really was something.

“Then on Friday I was working on what they call the mixed zone, where we got the rowers out of their boats, ready for the media interviews and them got the boats ready for after the medal ceremony.

“Alan Campbell literally fell out of his boat onto the pontoon, he really earned that medal so it wasn’t the right time to go over and say well done but I will catch up with them all.”

As Shannon prepared for the last day of racing before the rowing ended, she was looking forward to catching some more Olympic action in the company of dad Seamus, mum Lesley and brother Shay, all of whom travelled to London for the event.

Summing up her experience of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, Shannon said: “Words just cannot describe.”