Claudine Ratnayake graduated in American Management Science in 1997. Claudine was responsible for planning the Torch Relay route for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
We caught up with Claudine ahead of the Torch Relay which visited Swansea on the 26th and 27th of May...
Can you tell us how you started working for London 2012 and what your current role entails?
About eight and a half years ago I decided I wanted to work on the Games – we hadn’t even won the bid then! At the time I was a consultant at Accenture and felt a career change was needed. I reflected on my skills, interests and what would make me happy and decided upon events and projects. London 2012 wasn’t recruiting at the time but I found an events job working for the Mayor of London. My first project was working on the London leg of the Athens Olympic Torch Relay. I was hooked!
As a proud Londoner I wanted to work on the biggest peace time event we would ever see. I needed more experience so in 2006 I volunteered for the Winter Olympics in Torino where I learned an incredible amount about the Games, the organisation and the amazing effect the Games can have on a city and the country. Then I applied for a job at London 2012 where there were less than 100 members of staff at the time. I was responsible for some of the early planning of Transport as well as the Arrivals and Departures programme which included the Olympic Flame when it came to London as part of the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay in 2008.
I joined London 2012 when it was effectively a start up organisation and after 4 years I was ready to transition to a different role at a time when the business was rapidly growing and moving towards its operational phase. I’m currently an Advance Manager, responsible for planning the route, the stops and the logistics for each day as well as working with the Local Authorities to stage the Evening Celebration event. It’s a 70 day relay and I’m responsible for 17 days in the South West, West Midlands & Wales. When it comes to relay time, my job is to always be between 5 minutes to 2 hours ahead of the convoy making sure that all the plans are in place and if something has gone wrong – fix it!
What are the most challenging parts of your job?
Of the last 18 months I’ve spent nearly six months on the road, spending up to eight weeks at a time living out of a suitcase. After eight hours in the car each day and the prospect of yet more room service it’s hard to find the motivation to do a day’s work in the evening.
Whilst you need to be comfortable spending large amounts of time in your own company, you also need to be good with people as there are hundreds of relationships to establish and manage. These cover a range of organisations from Local Authorities, police and fire services to tourist attractions, schools and sponsors. Managing expectations and the flow of information to such a diverse and large range of organisations, is also challenging.
The deadline is immovable, the level of scrutiny from Government, the media and of course the general public is quite rightly high – no pressure then!
What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
The relay is all about the Torchbearers. We have chosen 8,000 very special people to carry the flame around the country, to represent their communities and to carry the message of peace, unity and friendship that the Olympic Torch Relay embodies. Each one has achieved their personal best in one way or another and their stories are quite moving and humbling.
We have a fantastic team and I feel privileged to work with so many highly motivated, passionate and committed people. Its hard work and long hours but we support each other – after all we are spending 70 days on the road together. I’m also lucky to be working on the Games with one of my best friends Jenny Donelan (nee Green) from Clyne Castle.
And of course, the beautiful scenery. Each of the Advance Managers thinks they have the best region – but I know I have!
Being part of the Torch Relay Team has given you the opportunity to return to Swansea. What are your thoughts and feelings of Swansea now, fifteen years after graduating?
I’ve been back once or twice since graduating but this time was different. I was so excited to be returning in a professional capacity. Swansea has and always will remain a very special place to me – my student days were the best and I have many fond memories. Campus has changed so much – so many new buildings in places where we used to lie on the grass and soak up the sun!
Why did you originally decide to study at Swansea University?
The course. I wanted to do a business related degree that offered more than the standard fare of business studies subjects. I also wanted to spend a year abroad so I jumped at the chance to study in North America (New Brunswick in Canada). I hadn’t quite appreciated the beach location, the Mumbles and proximity to the Gower – that was all a bonus when I turned up as a fresher!
How has Swansea University and your course helped you with your chosen career path?
My course was hugely relevant in getting me to where I am now. I was able to choose from a wide selection of courses in my final year ranging from innovation to logistics, IT to project management. There was a lot of team working and presentations involved with many projects to deliver.
It was my extracurricular activities that really set me on my current path, that’s where I got my interest and experience in events. I joined RAG in my first year and then became a committee member in my second. We organised all manner of events, and the one I was responsible for was the RAG parade. Rather apt as it turns out as I’m returning with another parade of sorts and retracing the route in reverse from the Kingsway past the University.
How does your role pan out following this year’s Olympics and Paralympics? What are your plans for the future?
The Olympic Torch Relay starts on Saturday 19th May in Land’s End and finishes when the last Torchbearer lights the cauldron in the Olympic Park on Friday 27th July. After 70 consecutive days on the road I’ll be ready for a sleep!
I don’t have a specific Games time role; however there will be a lot of work closing down the project and preparing for the Paralympic Torch Relay which is a completely different concept altogether and very different in scale and atmosphere. There will be a Flame Festival event in each Nation with the flame lighting also taking place. The flames will be brought together at Stoke Mandeville to create the Paralympic Flame which will then be brought to London in an overnight relay to light the cauldron and start the Paralympic Games. The Flame Festival for Wales will take place in Cardiff on Monday 27th August and I’m very excited about what’s being planned.
My contract ends in September and I plan to take a long holiday, and certainly evaluate my options. I know that I’m about to embark on a very special, once in a lifetime journey. It’s going to be very hard to top this that’s for sure.
You can read about other Swansea alumni and their involvement with London 2012 here.