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Covid Olympics a new challenge

“THE best job on the planet” is how Gisborne woman Diana Dobson describes her communications role for the New Zealand Olympic Committee in Tokyo.

Dobson, known to many as “Dobbie”, is a press attache for the Games team.

It is the third time she has filled this position, having also been to the 2016 Rio Games and 2018 Commonwealth Games on Australia's Gold Coast.

Most of the New Zealand comms team made the long flight to Tokyo last week under strict Covid-19 protocol.

They arrived to what Dobson described as “a yummy 32 degrees” and faced long hours of “procedures and processes” both in New Zealand and then on arrival in Tokyo.

“The airport alone took more than five hours but it was pretty slick as we moved from station to station.

“There is so much attention to detail around Covid safety and our team is particularly strict.”

A press attache is a link between the media and the athletes. The media go through the attache, who sets up interviews and moderates to make sure they are “fair and respectful to the athletes”.

“Everything about the New Zealand team is very athlete-centric,” Dobson said.

She is responsible for several sports at Tokyo, including weightlifting, on which the international spotlight will be directly shining with Laurel Hubbard in the New Zealand team.

Hubbard is the first openly transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic Games — a decision that has been met with mixed reaction around the world — and will be under immense scrutiny.

Dobson fielded press inquiries from all over the globe after Hubbard was announced as part of the team, but has had some experience of this as the weightlifting press attache for the 2018 Commonwealth Games at which Hubbard competed.

As well as weightlifting at the Tokyo Games, Dobson will cover showjumping, eventing, swimming and men's golf (Ryan Fox is New Zealand's sole representative), and may be involved in other sports if needed.

“It's going to be challenging given the Covid environment, but a fantastic opportunity to be a part of,” said the former Gisborne Herald journalist and professional photographer. “It's a great group of people in our comms team and we all work to back each other up where we can.”

If history is anything to go by, Dobson will come home with a few more colourful experiences under her belt.

At the 2016 Rio Games, she was at the heart of a scare when a stray bullet went through the media tent at the equestrian centre and landed near her. It was believed to have been discharged from a firearm accidentally. No one was hurt but Dobson found herself the centre of international media attention.

Tokyo is presenting a contrasting environment to the populous Rio Games.

The comms team are strictly isolated to their hotel accommodation, Olympic Village, the media centre and event venues.

They get to travel to venues with the Kiwi athletes and also have the same full Olympic kit.

Dobson had both Covid-19 vaccinations before she left, and now in Tokyo has a saliva test for the virus every day.

She and her fellow comms team members are staying at the Conrad Hotel which she described as “next-level fabulous”.

The Japanese people had been “so welcoming”, she said.

Dobson has been keeping friends and family updated on Facebook.

On Saturday she wrote “the village continues to get busier and as I write this, the first of our athletes are being welcomed with a rousing haka”.

Yesterday she said everything was starting “to ramp up”.

“We have spent some of our day visiting venues just to get the lay of the land. The rowing and canoeing venue is gorgeous albeit directly in a flight path so there may be a few pregnant pauses before the start gun goes so everyone can hear it.

“We also visited the weightlifting venue which is in a beautiful auditorium.”

“A lot of New Zealand athletes are headed into the village today. Some are already there and others still flying. It's been a big day for the support staff who do so much to ensure everyone is welcomed and comfortable.”

Dobson said it was “beyond words” how privileged she felt to be part of the Games and she would never take it for granted.

“It's the best job on the planet.”

Gisborne has two athletes in Tokyo for the Games — triathlete Tayler Reid and sprint kayaker Alicia Hoskin.

SETTLING IN: Diana Dobson arrived in Tokyo last week to take up her job as a press attache with the New Zealand Olympic Committee communications team. This will be her third Olympics, but the first with no spectators after authorities decided the risk of infection from Covid-19 was too great.Picture supplied