As sweated dripped from the forehead of Lin Dan, Chinese badminton player in the Wembley Arena last week at the 2012 Olympics, London’s Ainsley Richards jumped into action on the court. Her job was not to pass the shuttlecock to the players. It was to mop up the player’s sweat falling on the floor.
Ms. Richards, 17 years old, is a part of a 30-person team that is specially trained keeping Olympic badminton players from slipping. Ms. Richards who herself is an elite badminton player in the Welsh league said, “It is not the most glamorous job but we’re on TV and we’re in the Olympics.”
Moppers have the most high profile job during the Olympics than any other volunteers. They get the responsibility of keeping the courts clean and dry during sweaty sports like badminton, volleyball, handball and basketball.
The moppers are the stars among the 70,000 volunteers working these Olympics. During the badminton matches, some Chinese spectators were heard yelling “court mopper, jia you!”, translation: “court moppers, go for it!”
The moppers even get introduced like players at indoor volleyball. Josh Kirk, 18, mopper said “We run through the cheerleaders, who shake their pompoms above our heads, make us feel like royalty. We walk to the center of the court and do a two-handed wave, which for cool, trendy 17- and 18-year-olds is quite embarrassing. But it’s part of the job. You milk it a bit.”
During the basketball matches, a team of “Magic Moppers” appears at the court during breaks and pretends to wipe sweat while break dancing. These guys are actually professional dancers who are dressed and equipped as moppers.
As it is difficult to go in the Olympics, one faces the same difficulty in becoming a volunteer at Olympics. There is a huge competition to be a mopper. For badminton three groups were selected out of 15. In volleyball,three 16-person teams were chosen out of a total of 100 teams. Handball had 36 volunteers while basketball had 68 volunteer moppers.
But this was not all. Selections were followed by months of training.
Ms. Richards said “You have to go like lightning, you feel like Usain Bolt mopping”. She added that staying in sync is difficult because athletes on either side of the court produce different amounts of sweat.
The no-contact rule became a challenge for Ms. Richards when Olympic gold medalist Lin Dan thanked her for her services on court. She said, “I couldn’t say anything back. I tried to stifle a smile, but how can you not smile at Lin Dan? I’m in love. I was so close to him, but so far away.”
Mr. Kirk said, “There’s a lot of hard work put in and a lot of what’s the word? Confidence-building to make sure that we believed that we could do it”.
Like players, Moppers also compete amongst themselves to get a chance of working in gold medal matches. There is no such criteria for selection but speed is important.
Stretching is important in Olympic mopping like all athletic pursuits. Jay Roper, a leader of the team of volleyball moppers from Sheffield said, “It might sound ridiculous, but people do pull muscles and strain things by mopping the floor, because it is intense”.
It is not an easy task to be a mopper. They have a dehydration risk as temperatures at the indoor badminton arena can be over 85 degrees Fahrenheit. But moppers don’t mind the heat.
Fern Gilders, badminton field-of-play group leader says, “They’re all so excited it is so warm because it means that players sweat more.”
Source: The Wall Street Journal