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European Athletic Championships: Biggest Job Ever

For Host Broadcaster NOS, United facilitated the registration of the European Athletic Championships 2016 in Amsterdam.

This was one of the most extensive and prestigious projects ever in United’s history, and during an event-filled summer at that: the European Football Championships, the Tour de France and, of course, the Olympics. The European Athletic Championships in numbers.

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European Athletic Championships: Biggest Job Ever

Behind the scenes in the Olympic Stadium

That United could supply all the required technology for registering a huge project like the European Athletic Championships with the help of its sister companies of the Euro Media Group, was one thing. But to tie everything together into a stable network and the best possible result was the work of men and women. A look behind the scenes.

Nine days before the start of the EU Athletic Championships the first United trucks drive onto the site of the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium. An impressive amount of cables, camera’s, dollies, Vinten heads and other materials were unloaded and grouped together. In charge of this operation was head assistant Alissa Jalink. Together with her team of 20 assistants she laid out the infrastructure required to register all images and sounds. ‘We are responsible for everything that happens between the cameras, microphones and production units. Most of our time goes into preparations: From drawing up a cable plan to packing up the trucks. So even while we were setting up, about fifty percent of my job had been done already.’

No spaghetti

Alissa worked closely together with Peter Bakker (Head of Camera), Pim Jansen (Head Video Engineering) and Hilbert Flokstra (Project leader Audio/Intercom/Comments). ‘They told us what materials they needed, and I made a shopping list, as it were. I then used that for the cable plan, and coordinate with Gijs Vos, the project leader. It was quite exciting, actually. I do a lot of music registrations; including large projects, but the EU Championships involved more production units and other equipment. This meant we needed other cables. We also had to have an infrastructure in place for more than 130 cameras. 77 were ours, the other ones were of other countries that linked up with our network to make their own programmes. All-in-all we had to have a massive amount of cables, and make sure we didn’t end up with spaghetti. The routing was extremely important, so that there would be no crossing during assembly and disassembly. Every cable was labelled, so you could immediately see which one to replace if necessary. Also, we built  with the breakdown in mind: We prefer to take more time building to make sure that we can take down and clear out as quickly as possible. Part of the materials had to be shipped off to Rio for the Olympics the next day.’


Alissa Jalink – ‘We had to have an infrastructure in place for more than 130 cameras’.

Hundreds of hours

As the days progressed, Alissa’s team was working like a well-oiled machine and a few days before the start of the EU Championships the entire network was ready for testing. Hilbert Flokstra and his team were checking whether all audio lines in and around the stadium were hooked up to the Technical Operational Centre (TOC) and on to the eight production units. But also whether communication between the units went smoothly and between the different production offices, the TOC, the Commentary Control Room and the Museumplein location. Did all commentary positions have the right lines? Did the wireless communication with 150 walkie-talkies in and around the stadium work like it should? Hilbert: ‘Everything went almost without a hitch, we spent a lot of time preparing; as early as the summer of 2015 we had the first meetings to translate our customer’s demands into a technical concept. The team then designed a major audio and intercom set-up, and, together with others including Alissa, we planned the cable details.’

‘Patching’

The only glitch during the assembly phase was that the construction of the Portakabins lagged behind schedule. ‘We had to depend on the event organisers’, Gijs Vos explains. ‘We could not set up our offices and the TOC right away, but we made up the leeway. The many people and materials involved made this a very complex project. It was good to see how everything came together.’

Pim Jansen emphasises that this was not just a matter of making preparations and laying cables.  ‘On match days, there was a lot of rerouting, that made it so complex. The cameras were always assigned to the same disciplines, but the production units varied: the qualifying rounds of high jumping, for instance, took place on two mats at the same time. So we split up the cameras usually linked to one production unit over two units. The same, of course, with audio and intercom. It was quite het puzzle, but it worked out well.’

The whole

The third match day saw heavy rain showers and rising temperatures. Some of the lenses fogged up and Peter Bakker had to arrange for replacements in a hurry. He stresses how much this project relied on team work, like every project of United. ‘The camera man is eager to make a beautiful shot but he needs the help of his colleagues in video engineering. They have to diaphragm nicely and functionally. And in the long jump the viewers want to hear the landing as if they’re there. Assistants make it possible to get where you have to be, with a hand-held camera on cable, they are a second pair of eyes, or can hand you a bottle of water. In short: We really work as a team, with everyone and every component contributing to the whole. And we go the extra mile. Eddy and Sascha, our technical guys, for instance welded a camera holder to the pole vault standard, so viewers at home could see the images because of his welding. But it is about much more than just the sporting events. You also have to capture the emotions – athletes who lose, the audience, that’s how you make a story.’


Peter Bakker – ‘We really work as a team, with everyone and every component contributing to the whole

 

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