By Mike Rowbottom
Mike Rowbottom
My friend Russell was one of the 70,000 whose efforts as Games Makers helped the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics run as smoothly as in a happy dream. His task was to oversee a part of the cycling course for the road racing and time trial events, which meant that, as a long-time cycling enthusiast, he had the opportunity to watch some of his heroes and heroines whizzing past while, of course, making 100 per cent sure that all was in order roadside.

Russell's Olympic journey was probably typical of that made by many of his fellow volunteers, and what follows here is a three-part log of that journey – before, during and after.

That journey began with a sense of commitment and a wish to be involved in something glimmering tantalisingly on the horizon. But in Russell's case – and no doubt in the case of many other Games Makers – there was a measure of amused scepticism at the process of "orientation".

Which was evident in his first account, written in April:

"My journey started with a selection interview at ExceL in London. The interview was preceded by small film clips designed to get you in the mood which were OK if a little patronising. This was followed up by Cadbury's attempt at 'Let's have a team game and do some jumping up and down'.

"Some people were spots and some people stripes but personally I hated the infectious corporate enthusiasm. 'Hang on - we are not Americans!' I kept thinking. Most people felt uncomfortable and were not keen on being asked to compete in some pointless invented game designed to remind us that Cadbury's are such good people for supporting the games.

"The best bit was when some of the specialist 2012 staff relating to my sport, cycling, came and spoke to us. This was relevant and gave us some idea of the challenges that they faced and our role in helping the events run successfully, which created some enthusiasm amongst the volunteers, because we were all volunteers for cycling.

Mark Cavendish_of_Britain__the_peleton_cross_the_finishing_line_of_the_mens_road_race_cyclingMark Cavendish and the peleton cross the finish line of the men's road race cycling at this summer's Games

"The next event some months later was a three-hour training session to brief us on our role for the Surrey classic road race – the Olympic Test event for the cycling road race. This was well organised and despite the very simple nature of our role – to stand by the side of the road and look after crossings - we were well briefed.

"The event itself was a success in that Cav [Mark Cavendish] won, but the organisation was also very good. We were given ration packs and were transported to our section. I was in the section on the Upper Richmond road.

"The road had been closed from 0400, and this was because of the need to remove traffic lights, street furniture and islands from the middle of the road and place tarmac patches to smooth the road surface.

"(Incidentally after the race, these traffic lights were replaced with specially designed islands, in itself a lengthy process, that would then be able to be dismantled in minutes for the Olympic road race in 2012.)

"The public were generally good, but there were some very irate motorists and pedestrians who could not drive or walk in their usual routes because of the race. Plenty of police and private security tried to deal with this occasional irritation.

Russell London_2012_Games_Maker_on_dutyLondon 2012 Games Maker Russell on duty

"My next event was the first part of my training at the Wembley Arena. Eddy Izzard set the scene with enthusiasm, encouraging us to get everyone we know doing some exercise. However, he was soon replaced with some very general, obvious and sadly rather lacklustre presentations.

"Olympic volunteers are a self-selecting group, happy to put aside their time and enthusiastic to get involved, some with experience of sport. We were not a tired, dispirited workforce, needing to have exhortations to be gung-ho. We were given presentations about being open and helpful to people, about being mindful of any bags left unattended and whilst I can see this is important, it is annoying to have travelled and paid costs to sit down and have something explained to you that would be done by an email pdf for example.

"Then we had to some canned film but fronted by live presenters, pretending to be a sort of One Show/Breakfast TV on the volunteers at the actual Olympics.

"One film report showed a women saying goodbye to her family and went with her to the exciting moment she walked into the railway station to catch a train! This was truly torture!

"The saving grace was Jonathan Edwards, who as main presenter had a freshness and British desire for practical advice peppered with risqué one- liners.

"The purple uniform for most of the normal volunteers is terrible - almost everyone hated it. It was as if all possible efforts had been made to produce an outfit that you would never wear again. A designer had been involved, who wanted to reference the military uniforms of our past, hence the red epaulettes, cuffs with gold buttons and collar.

"But it seems to me this desire to make some extra cultural references just manages to take simple sporting style and distort it to something strange, unattractive and ineffective. I am sorry but it really is truly awful.

Greg Rutherford_of_Great_BritainGreg Rutherford of Great Britain won gold in men's long jump as he wears the Team GB kit

"The Team GB kit is nearly wonderful, but again the new 2012 agenda pushes it too far, rendering it a watered down un-British stylishness that is neither sporting trendiness nor more abstract outlandish fashion style. I just think that the colour change of the union flag - red, white and blue - to drab shades of blue takes away a bolder confident statement of who we are, one that the world wants to see. But then again maybe this changing of our normal colours is a sign of a greater confidence - we are happy to change everything.

"I feel it is the same with the volunteers training programme so far. Games Makers - what kind of name is that? If 2012 is about who we are as a nation then why are we not calling it exactly as it is – we are Volunteers for the Olympics. And the generalist, patronising and often pointless training we have had so far seems to me to have been effected with a transatlantic, marketing, HRM and risk/legal agenda which is getting in the way of making this process memorable and useful for the volunteers.

"I am all for cool Britannia, but part of our Britishness is a straightforward, self- deprecating, slightly reserved friendly warmth. I accept that Britain in 2012 wants to embrace the multicultural aspect of our nation. But false, non-authentic, modern business-derived management techniques do not sit well with the Misfits generation as much as they do not sit well with me, an ancient 51-year-old!

"Am I alone in thinking that most of the Olympic merchandise is just plain ugly, and the mascots are again a triumph of design over appeal? How is a Cyclops as appealing as something with two eyes?

"I do hope my further training is not endless Health and Safety or exhortations to be pleasant and friendly. I do not need to be told that. Almost all the volunteers I have met are that as part of their character. What I want is someone to tell me what I am to do, in a direct practical British way which recognises I have a brain.

"We are expected to pay for all transport to and from the training events and any accommodation that may be necessary. My son is a student in Middlesbrough. He is also a volunteer but cannot afford the cost of getting to his training events in London.

London 2012_Games_MakersLondon 2012 Games Makers do the "Mo-bot"

"The cost to others is no doubt accumulating as more and more training events are necessary, so perhaps you can see why I struggle with training that seems so simple and facetious and that would be better done online, on disc or with printed matter. For our actual events we are promised free transport to and from by Transport for London, but what about those living further away?

"Finally I managed to attend the Test event at the Velodrome, and it was wonderful, a great atmosphere, and mostly the organisation was faultless, getting to it, throughout the day, and departing. I do think we are going to pull this off!"

Russell's optimism proved to be well-founded as the Games in general, and the road cycling events in particular, proved to be successful beyond the organisers' best hopes, with the opening men's road race – in which Cav failed to replicate his test event victory – drawing an estimated million spectators out onto the roads of London and leafy lanes of Surrey.

Here is Russell's second account, on the subject of the Games in action.

"I reported for duty at Hyde Park and was duly bussed out to Richmond to man the side of the road, look after a crossing point for men's cycling road race. There was lots of waiting, but the crowd grew and grew, and their enthusiasm and evident interest in the race was great.

"I tried to explain the nuances of road race, but some people were obviously experienced watchers of cycling. Some kids asked if they could chalk the road, so avoiding the racing line, we were on a corner, we soon had 'Go Wiggo' and 'Go Cav'.

"At last the outbound leg came flying past, with helicopters hovering and motorbike as the precursor to the bunch, doing a very gentle trundle! Samuel Sanchez stopped for a leisurely wheel change and then they were gone.

"So the long wait, a stroll for a coffee and a sandwich, chatting with the other Games Makers. Someone in the crowd had an iPad with a TV feed, so we could keep up with the race and we knew GB had lost the fight for Cav before they came charging through, this time much faster. The noise was higher and the cheering relentless. Dave Millar came through exhausted I remember.

"The following day of the women's race was a repeat, but the crowds were smaller, which was a shame because it was a better race. The rain blasted us all to bits and we were thoroughly soaked at the end. But Lizzie [Armitstead] got silver!

"I recall being shattered but happy at the end of my 2012 weekend. The final day's volunteering was the following Wednesday, the day of the Time Trial. I was placed in a section purely for the men's route, so again lots of waiting. But the crowds were fantastic, I was in a residential area and lots of people had barbecues and made a day of it. Then the riders came through, and people were cheering. 'Have a burger!' someone said. It was great.

"But when Bradley [Wiggins] came through, the noise level went absolutely nuts. I screamed my head off, whilst still trying the keep an eye on the crowd and keep them back. It must have been a wall of noise - he seemed in the zone.

"'Quick', my burger-providing chums said, 'come in the lounge for a few seconds to see if Fabian Cancellera will beat Bradley.' But we knew it was all Wiggo!

"I still remember this bunch of Brits jumping up from their sofa to cheer a bike race victory. Even as a seasoned Tour de France tourist/watcher it remains a great memory.

"Because the practicality of my cycling volunteering was very simple, the practical bit of my training could be brief and simple. As a result, the balance  between that and the general vague nonsense was tilted towards the latter. But talking to other volunteers who were working in the swimming, I understood much more that they had really been schooled in their role, with lots of training that was hands-on and really useful."

And once the Games were over, once the Lord Mayor's show – or rather, the Mayor of London's show – had furled up its banners and departed into history, there was a time for evaluation and reflection for participants, and observers. Russell's own views, as a Games Maker who had done his bit to make such a memorable Games, contrasted markedly with his initial tendency towards scepticism.

"I have found myself being overcome with emotion during the whole thing. It was almost as if I needed to re-boot my sense of being British. Although not linked to the volunteering, this feeling has been very surprising.

"I sat through the technical rehearsal for the opening ceremony with hairs on the back of my neck standing on end, and my eyes pricking with the wonderful- ness of it all. It was as if Danny Boyle and his team were saying 'Forget all the doom-mongers, the people who doubt Britain, who moan at our young people, the people who want to pound us against the wall for our colonial past.

"Because that does not matter anymore. We can write our own futures, we can believe in something wonderful.

Prime Minister_David_Cameron__London_2012_Games_MakersPrime Minister David Cameron speaks to London 2012 Games Makers at ExcCeL

"And the thanks that were said to all us volunteers can make me cry. It wets my eyes as I write this. It might be daft but it is there. It may be a function of other things going on in my life, but 2012 is part of this. And I even appreciate Dave's letter - even if I find it hard not to believe he would love volunteering to help him cut public spending!!

"So my pride was actually less to do with British success on the field of play - I was more proud of Bradley winning the Tour de France for example. It was more to do with delivering the Olympics to the world, with effort, planning, forethought and a British, cheerful, relaxed, non-officious way of doing things.

"Can this good volunteering ethos be used elsewhere? I think the 2012 spirit may provide a seed of extra people for the Scouts and other voluntary things but I think any attempt to use this in a wrapped-up "Nation's volunteers service" will fail.

"In being reminded that we as a species are best working together, we should, in my view, remind ourselves that a civilised nation should pay enough taxes to itself to make a difference to do the good stuff.

"Let volunteering be an intensely personal thing, not for use or appropriation by others, under a banner or a slogan. Because this Olympics was about the sport, the young (mostly) people pushing themselves to the limit.

"We could all walk towards this goal untainted by the more long-term practical problems of real life. To be reminded of the essential good nature of almost all human beings is a supremely good thing."

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames.