TEAM IRELAND athletes aren’t the only Irish people facing a mammoth task at the London Olympics. Coolaney woman Catherine Toolan is hoping for a personal best as she takes charge of feeding the world’s greatest athletes at the Games.
As managing director of Aramark’s special projects, she is overseeing the catering for all athletes in the three Olympic villages. “We expect to feed 65,000 people on a peak day,” she says.
“We’ll serve just under two million meals for the duration of the Games.”
The London Organising Committee has described the feeding operation for the Olympic and Paralympic Games as the largest peace-time catering operation in the world.
It involves feeding more than 15,000 athletes across the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. Highlighting the importance of the athletes’ diet, London 2012 sustainability ambassador James Cracknell said: “When you’re an athlete at a Games, you want to know that the right food is available at the right time. It’s a vital part of your preparation.”
Toolan doesn’t appear daunted by the task, perhaps because she’s done it all before. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, she oversaw the serving of 3.5 million meals to athletes and officials. After the closing ceremony, the athletes returned to applaud her team.
She says feeding athletes from every corner of the world is challenging. “We are providing halal food, kosher food, catering for gluten-free diets, all on a 24- hour basis. There are a lot of grilled meats and vegetables. Pizza too.” The choice of foods includes British, African, Caribbean, European, Mediterranean, Indian and Asian.
She doesn’t get star-struck when some of the more famous competitors queue with their trays. “It’s really exciting to be here but we have our job to do. We are trying to provide a home from home for the athletes. We’ve just fed Usain Bolt – and the Williams sisters were in last night.”
Asked whom she was most looking forward to meeting, the Coolaney woman returned to her roots. “It’s great to see the Irish athletes coming in. I’m looking forward to seeing Katie Taylor. I hope we can help her in whatever way she needs.”
Her path to the Olympics started when she studied hotel and catering in Galway. She worked at Heathrow and Dublin airports with the Forte group, before doing a master’s in UCD in strategy and organisational psychology. Part of that involved studying in Beijing. She went to work with Campbell Catering, which was later taken over by Aramark.
And here she is at the Olympics again. Now all she has to do is feed those hungry athletes.
“So far so good, but we have a lot of meals to go,” she says.