The last sprint before the Olympic Games in Rio

Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium hosts the European Athletics Championships this week, with Nienke Erkelens, alumnus of Johan Cruyff Institute, in charge of events production

The world of sport will again focus its attention on Amsterdam this week on the occasion of the 2016 European Athletics Championships, which will be held from July 6th to 10th at the Olympic Stadium. The Dutch capital will host more than 80,000 visitors and 1,500 athletes from 50 different countries, who will be competing in 46 disciplines. For all of them, it will be the last sprint before the Olympic Games in Rio.

Johan Cruyff Institute has an ‘insider’ in the organization of the event: Nienke Erkelens, a former student of the Johan Cruyff Institute and Johan Cruyff Academy, is in charge of events production. There is no one better than her to explain to us the impact of holding the European Athletics Championships at the historic Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam and her role in a macro-event of this kind.

De laatste sprint voor de Olympische Spelen in Rio - Event Management - Johan Cruyff Institute

Inauguration Ceremony on Museum Square

What makes these European Championships different from earlier editions?

The Olympic Stadium opened its doors almost 100 years ago, back in 1928 when Amsterdam hosted the Olympic Games. So it is a historic place and a very compact and cozy stadium, situated right in the city. The qualifying rounds for the javelin and discus will be held in Museum Square, next to the famous Van Gogh Museum and Rijks Museum – “the city as a sports venue”. Another unique feature is that the participation of IPC athletes, the competition for athletes with a disability, is totally integrated in the event. And there are many recreational activities as side events, to familiarize young people with athletics.

What is, from your perspective, the value of the event?

The plans for the European Athletics Championships already existed when I started to work for the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam back in 2008. So we have been engaged in planning and organizing this event for years! I have helped to organize many extraordinary events, such as the “Coolest Track of The Netherlands” (which included the National Ice Skating Championships), the Flying Dutch mega dance event and the Amsterdam Marathon, but the European Athletics Championships is the one that is dearest to us. It’s the kind of event the stadium was originally built for, and we are very proud that our historic stadium can be used for such a huge international event, which will be watched by the entire world. This event is the ‘cherry on the cake’ and we are all very excited and really looking forward to it.

How many of you are there on the event organization team?

The organization started last January with the construction of new tracks. During the last few months our staff of seven (and a number of part-time workers) have been working on it. With such a large event, we are all very involved in the event, of course.

Can you explain your personal role?

I do production, which means that I am responsible for all operational matters. For instance, I take care of our team schedule, and that we are ready in time for the construction of everything that is needed for the European Championship. I also represent the stadium at several practical meetings, like the competition and venue meetings, and I advise on communications with stakeholders, such as the companies in the stadium and neighborhood residents. During the event, I am part of the crisis management team (CMT), and I am the floor manager for anything that has to do with the stadium.

The last sprint to the Olympic Games in Rio - Johan Cruyff Institute

Can you explain how you work together?

I am in touch by mail and phone with everybody on a daily basis on operational matters. In addition, we come together to discuss the more complex issues. As the European Championships were getting closer, there were more people involved, which made it a bit confusing at times. Therefore, we agreed to organize “catch-up meetings” on Fridays these last weeks before the event, which we combine with having lunch or drinks together.

What are the biggest challenges in organizing this event?

There is an organizational challenge because so many organizations are involved in the event. The most important ones for us are the European Athletics Championships Amsterdam 2016, which organizes the event, and the Municipality of Amsterdam, which takes care of the facilities, including the new running tracks in the stadium, the ‘warm-up tracks’ just outside the stadium on Schinkel island, the training facilities in Amsterdam-Ookmeer, and – of course – the facilities at Museum Square. A major technical challenge was the huge expansion of lighting in our historic stadium. National broadcasting organization NOS installed over 70 cameras, using the latest technology, in order not to miss out on any detail during the event.

For you personally, what is most fun and most challenging in your job?

The best thing about my job is its diversity. Every day is different! Last month, we welcomed 30,000 visitors who danced to the beats of Armin van Buuren, less than a week later we had 6,000 high school students playing sports, and one week later we hosted the National Athletics Championships for Dutch elite athletes. At the same time, that is the most challenging part, because the events are planned very close together, and every customer expects a neat and clean stadium. Another great aspect is that you build up a huge network. I am the contact person for each event and therefore I deal with a lot of people and parties. I find it is also very important to have a good professional relationship with all my colleagues.

What will be the highlight of the European Championships?

When Dafne Schippers wins gold (laughs)! I will be happy when the stadium is filled, the sun is shining, and everything runs smoothly. I look forward to a stadium full of cheering people!


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