Thursday, August 2, 2012

Olympic Size Supply Chain Challenges

by Rich Lindgren, CPP

We all love gathering around our television every few years to watch our home country Olympians compete in the crafts to which they have dedicated much of their lives.

But, have you ever spent any time thinking about how some Olympians get themselves and their gear to the host country and ready for these events?  Sure, if you are Justin Gatlin or Allyson Felix, throwing a few pairs of shoes and some running outfits into your carry-on and getting on a plane for London is a walk in the park.  I am sure Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin had no issues getting their spare swim caps and goggles in their back packs.

What really got me thinking was seeing a news story leading up to Olympic coverage of one of our U.S. pole vaulters trying to get through an airport with his poles on his way to London.  I also read this article from NY Times as a follow up.

Photo from Mary Saxer via NY Times
You may be wondering, "Why don't athletes ship their gear ahead of time?" As it turns out, most poles are about seventeen feet in length.  Some athletes could travel with up to seven poles, each of which would cost around $8,000 to ship in travel tubes.  Can you imagine the potential horror stories about the Olympian who went to pick up their pole after UPS, DHS or FedEx?  For the most part, long, thin, and flexible items do not fair well in parcel systems, since they are not set up for that.  Also, you can imagine the oversize and dimensional weight penalties you would get charged on something that size?

Assuming you can get your poles on the plane and the carry-on fees are not too excessive, then how do you get to the Olympic village?  I'm guessing most airport shuttles and rental cars are not setup for this special request...

Who else may have challenges?  Kayakers, rowers, javelin throwers?  I am sure there are special requirements for our archers and shooting competitors post-September 11.  How about the sailing team?  Do they all just leave a few weeks early and drive the boat to London?  And don't forget about our Equestrian athletes faithful steeds...  Leave a comment if I am missing other athlete's logistical challenges!

As a packaging and supply chain professional, it is easy to empathize with our Olympians who face similar challenges that I face every day, only on a slightly different scale.  Maybe now, you, too, will see some of these athletes in a different light.

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