His job is more than just fun and Games

Ron Cameron in front of BC Place, site of the ceremonies in Vancouver, British Columbia. Ron Cameron in front of BC Place, site of the ceremonies in Vancouver, British Columbia.
By Steven Rosenberg
Globe Staff / February 11, 2010

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Around 9 p.m. tomorrow, Ron Cameron will stand in a booth inside the domed BC Place overlooking 60,000 attending the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. He’ll be intently watching the ceremonies, along with an expected worldwide TV audience of more than 1 billion people.

As general manager of the stadium and the person responsible for overseeing the management and operations of the opening and closing ceremonies, the Nahant resident will be flanked by more than a dozen assistants and will have access to a gaggle of cellphones and two-way radios than can put him in touch with thousands of stadium workers.

“It’s a balancing act,’’ said Cameron, 60, who oversaw the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. “As soon as the show initiates, there’s still a bunch of moving parts that still have to happen and you have to stay ahead of things.’’

As a teen growing up in Melrose, Cameron wanted to be a filmmaker, and after graduating from Melrose High headed off to the University of Massachusetts Amherst to follow his dream. After leaving UMass in the 1970s, he realized his ability to multitask and see the big picture could serve him well in the burgeoning rock tour industry. Over the last two decades, he has helped coordinate tours for Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, and the Eagles.

In 1996, he did his first Olympics gig - serving as site manager at the Georgia Dome for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta - and was hooked.

“There’s no school that trains you for this,’’ said Cameron, who loves watching the athletic competition and embraces the challenge of overseeing thousands of workers who have to excel at their jobs in order for the ceremonies to run smoothly.

For more than two years, Cameron has worked to transform BC Place - a large air-supported football stadium in downtown Vancouver - to Olympic standards. During that time, he has been in charge of planning everything from security and food and beverage service to creating a broadcast village and a transportation system that will use more than 1,000 buses to transport athletes, VIPs, and spectators to the games. Overall, he oversees more than 50 divisions. With a phone call or a press of the button on his radio, he can find out immediately how the traffic is flowing outside of the stadium, whether all of the athletes and VIPs have arrived, if all the 150 live cameras for broadcast are functioning, and if medical assistance is in place in case it’s needed.

And although the 16-hour days and the constant ringing of his cellphone have never let up over the last two years, he tries to keep his hometown connections strong. Every day, he checks the scores of the Boston sports teams online. And a year ago, he was joined by his wife, Debbie Allif, who formerly served on Nahant’s Open Space and Community Preservation committees.

Like Cameron, Allif has worked at the Olympics before, as a support operations manager at the athletes’ village in Salt Lake City in 2002. She says her husband’s greatest strength is his ability to focus on the overall goal of the event, as well as the details. “His best attribute is how he can see the whole picture. He anticipates ahead of what can happen next. He’s very calm and collected,’’ she said.

Ian Pool, who is helping to produce tomorrow night’s ceremony, also gives Cameron high marks for his management skills. “He keeps people focused and ensures that they understand what the job is that needs to be done. And he doesn’t try and do their job for them. I think that’s why he’s so successful,’’ said Pool, who declined to name the performers who will appear at tomorrow night’s ceremony.

After the ceremonies, Cameron will be at the stadium every day and night for the rest of the games. Twelve victory ceremonies will be held, where gold, silver, and bronze medals will be awarded to athletes who competed that day, followed by live concerts. Workers will spend a day transforming the stadium for the two-hour closing ceremony Feb. 28.

In between shifts, Cameron and Allif will attend some of the events as spectators. In 1996, he was able to see the US Basketball “Dream Team’’ - which featured NBA stars Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and David Robinson - win the gold medal in Atlanta.

At the same games, he witnessed Kerri Strug clinch the gold medal for the US women’s gymnastics team.

“It’s a pretty noble thing that the Olympics represent,’’ said Cameron. “I think it brings people together and they share an experience that has everything to do with competition. But it’s competition in the positive way.’’

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