Shortly before the U.S. Softball team started its gold-medal run in Athens, Olympic officials were dealt an unexpected curveball when they learned dirt for the infield still hadn't arrived at the softball stadium. That's when Schenker, the official supplier of freight forwarding and customs clearance services for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, got the call to have 10,000 tons of red dirt shipped immediately from the United States. The company arranged to air freight some of the dirt in time for the softball test event. The remaining soil was ocean-freighted in time for the opening pitch of the Games (see DC VELOCITY, September 2004).
That's just one of several obstacles Schenker overcame in its role as the official logistics provider for the Athens Games. In total, Schenker shipped 160 ocean containers to the Games and 200 tons of air freight. Clients included NBC, the official broadcaster for the Olympics (which alone required 100 containers), and other U.S. media concerns as well as more than 350 individual customers, including 50 different national Olympic committees.
What did Schenker ship? Everything from the aforementioned dirt to delicate sound stage equipment to horses to junk food. "The dirt for the softball team was probably our most unusual request, but we shipped a lot of food items," says Richard Todorovic, operations manager for global sports events and Olympics at Schenker. "We shipped all kinds of things … a lot of beer, sodas and snacks and things that some people can't live without."
Still, the biggest logistics challenge lay not in meeting all the special requirements but in clearing shipments at the border. "We had a lot of problems with Greek Customs," reports Todorovic."They were not used to the volume of freight they received, and Greece is one of the only countries left where you cannot clear customs electronically. Everything was manual, and that was a major obstacle."
Fortunately, Schenker has dealt with these kinds of challenges before. The company handled freight forwarding and customs clearance for the Sydney Games in 2000 and the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, and it had a pretty good idea what to expect. In fact, Schenker began preparing for the 2004 Games in 2003, building a new 150,000-square-foot warehouse about 25 miles north of Athens that it used for receiving shipments and then reshipping items to different venues around Greece. One of the biggest challenges logisticians faced involved the narrow roads that lead into Athens. Many containers had to be broken down at the warehouse and repacked into smaller containers that would fit into smaller delivery trucks that could maneuver the tricky roads.
Still, Schenker seems unfazed by the experience. The German logistics company recently signed a contract to be the primary logistics company for the 2006 Winter Olympics to be held in Torino, Italy, and will begin shipping to venues in Italy early next year. In fact, it's already begun building a client base: Nearly half of the media outlets that covered the Athens Olympics have opted to store their equipment at Schenker's warehouse in Greece. The company will then ship it to Italy for use in covering the 2006 Games.