Sometimes, I think I've been at this game too long. During the past couple of months, while watching major athletic events, I've found myself wondering about the logistics that made them possible.
The biggest event was the London Olympics. Consider the sheer complexity of bringing together thousands of athletes, tens of thousands of fans, and enormous amounts of food and equipment amid tight security, all the while maintaining something close to normal life in one of the largest cities on the planet.
The logistics planning began five years before the event, according to the United Kingdom's Freight Transport Association. Not surprisingly, those charged with developing and executing the plan ran into plenty of difficulties—among them agencies and businesses sometimes working at cross purposes—but it appears that the execution went off superbly. Logistics professionals there have no time to sit back, though. The Paralympics come to London in just a couple of weeks.
A very different event that had me wondering about the logistics involved was the Tour de France. Nearly 200 cyclists covered 3,497 kilometers (2,173 miles) in 20 stages in July, with millions of spectators watching along the way. Each team of nine riders was supported by a crew of trainers, coaches, and mechanics, who each day had to set up shop in a new location. In the meantime, ordinary commerce had to work around all those road closures. Of course, in France, the Tour is a huge national event, which I'm sure helps develop a cooperative spirit.
I saw that sort of spirit close to home at a major annual charity bike ride. Each year, the Pan-Mass Challenge draws more than 5,000 riders to raise funds for cancer research (the ride expects to raise $36 million this year). Safely shepherding 5,000 riders across 200 miles of public roads over two days takes enormous planning and cooperation between the organizers and the towns the cyclists pass through, but over 30 years, the organizers have gotten the logistics down to a science. One example: One of the rest stops for riders is a couple of miles from my house. Volunteers set up the tents and food stations beginning on Friday afternoon. At 8 a.m. on Saturday, hundreds of volunteers were tending to a couple of thousand riders' hunger, thirst, injuries, and mechanical difficulties. A few dozen portable toilets served other needs. By the time I took my own bike ride about 4 that afternoon, the field was spotless.
These are not the sorts of logistics challenges we write about regularly. And the logistics of executing those events get scant if any public attention—unless something goes amiss. But they are a grand part of the show.