Chris and his fellow volunteers at the Wheelchair tennis
Chris and his fellow volunteers at the Wheelchair tennis

Volunteering at the Rio Paralympics

Join In Legacy Volunteer Chris Thorn loved lending a hand at the Olympics in Rio – now he’s helping out at the Paralympics.

“It’s the Paralympics Opening Ceremony tonight and after two full days of intensive training by Omega’s Josh and Hannah (the best Floridian double act since Mickey and Minnie), I can’t wait to start on Friday – as a Caller in the statistics and technology team at the wheelchair tennis.

If we are scheduled to work in the two big show courts, there will be three of us up in the rafters in a little box – one on radar, one caller, one stats input. It will be our job to activate the service speed gun and to mark the direction of the serve that you see on TV graphics (wide, body or centre) for commentators, coaches, athletes and fans to analyse the game.

We will also document the return of serve, type of shot, measure the number of shots in the rally, explanation of the final shot: (forehand/backhand, ground/lob/drop/pass/volley/overhead, forced/unforced winner, if either player was at the net) and, most importantly, the winner of the point. The laptop will immediately update the press, TV, website, and the Omega control room.

“As you may not know, the ‘Para’ in Paralympics is short for ‘parallel’.”

It will be my job as caller to watch the match and audio describe these key three shots (serve, return, end) to the radar keypad operator and my stats inputter colleague, using the exact terminology, in the order they require to tap the laptop arrow keys efficiently. This is so we have the same, correct score as the chair umpire and so everybody in the world beyond that court knows the correct score. It also needs to be very quick to counter against anyone gambling by trying to take advantage of technological or human time delays. And, you know, the sponsor prides themselves on precise timekeeping, so the scoreboard has to be in sync with the play.

The Paralympic Opening Ceremony took place in the Maracana stadium.

The Paralympic Opening Ceremony took place in the Maracana stadium.

As you may not know, the ‘Para’ in Paralympics is short for ‘parallel’, so we are using the same software as the Olympics. Indeed, the software gets used at tennis tournaments around the world, including Grand Slams. However, there is no ‘hot dog’ shot description button on the software – I guess that would just classify as a forehand ground shot. In a wheelchair, that would be some mighty fine showboating!

After training yesterday, a few of us wandered around the practice courts, getting some calling practice in real time, from the exact chairs we would be sitting on the outer courts – front row, opposite the chair umpire. After explaining what we would be doing and asking if we could watch, Team GB pair Alfie Hewett and David Phillipson gave us a spray of their Jungle Fever to keep away the flying ants. We retrieved the balls when they bounced into the stand and made some contentious line calls. Good job we are just stats, not umpire or line judges!

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