Captioning the Olympic and Paralympic Games
by Errol Carter
And the winner is ... Sydney! When Juan Antonio Samaranch announced those now famous words in Atlanta, Sydney didn't just win the right to be the host city for the 2000 Olympics, it "won the obligation to provide captioning" - and what a mammoth task it was for Realtime Reporters, which provided this service for the seven television networks in Australia.
Realtime Reporters captioned 19 hours a day, except for the first and last days when there were the opening and closing ceremonies - and none of it was captioned in Sydney. Realtime Reporters has two offices, one in Perth, over 3,000 kilometers (about 1,900 miles) away, and one in Brisbane, 1,000 kilometers (about 600 miles) from Sydney.
Extra resources were required for these long days, so it became an international exercise. The four in-house captioners were joined by six others - one from Ireland, one from England (an Australian based in London), one from the United States and three Australian freelancers.
To add to the difficulties of rostering, there was of course the time difference. The Brisbane team captioned from 5 a.m. local time to midday; the Perth team captioned from 10 a.m. local time to 10 p.m. (There is a three-hour time difference between Perth, on the western edge of Australia, and Brisbane, on its eastern edge. The reporters in Perth were in the same time zone as the competitors in Sydney.)
And, of course, our guest American captioner had to modify his dictionary to British/Australian spellings.
I can't believe it myself, but all the captioners say they had a great time, even enjoying those few occasions when a fellow captioner made one of those embarrassing, never-to-be-mentioned-in-public errors that were there for all the world to see.
Equally difficult, but not as time-consuming for the four captioners involved, were the 12 days of the Paralympics, which were captioned by the Australian Caption Centre for the national broadcaster, Channel 2. Approximately four hours were captioned each day, along with the subsequent ticker-tape parades for Australian athletes who competed in both games.
For all those international television viewers who thought Sydney looked great, why not see it for yourselves? Having shared the Olympics and Paralympics with the world, Sydney is host from April 20-22, 2001, to a joint conference of the Shorthand Reporters Association of Australia and STAR, Stenograph's user group - the first time a conference has been held outside of the United States. The conference venue is the harborside hotel and restaurant precinct featured in much of the television footage of the fireworks and other celebrations during the Olympics. (Contact details are listed under the Calendar.)
About the Author
Errol Carter is president of the Shorthand Reporters Association of Australia.