Gold-winning athletes from around the world at London’s 2012 Olympics rely on a great diet to keep them at peak performance. And it’s the task of an Irishwoman – Catherine Toolan from Coolaney, Co Sligo – to ensure the thousands of athletes and others in the Olympic Village are properly fed and watered as they bid for sporting glory.
Catherine is managing director of Aramak Ireland, whose world headquarters are in Philadelphia. The firm’s special projects team at the London Olympics, numbering around 3,000 employees, sees Catherine overseeing the catering for the 15,000 athletes in the three Olympic Villages on the east side of the English capital.
“We’ll serve just under two million meals over the duration of the Games," Catherine said. “We expect to feed 65,000 people on a peak day.”
It has been described by Olympic organisers as the largest peace-keeping catering operation in the world. But that isn’t troubling Catherine and her team at all. Maybe that’s because she is used to the competition. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, she was in charge of serving some 3.5 million meals to athletes and officials. And Catherine sees London 2012 as a challenge to improve upon the personal best she achieved in Beijing.
She said: “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 on offer includes British, African, Caribbean, European, Mediterranean, Indian and Asian. Catherine has seen many of all the famous Olympic faces in line for fuelling during the Games so far, including Usain Bolt and the Williams sisters. She is looking forward to meeting Irish boxing medal hope Katie Taylor who carried the flag ahead of Team Ireland into the Olympic Stadium at last Friday’s opening ceremony.
Catherine’s own road to Olympic glory began in Galway where she studied hotel and catering management. Before that she worked as a waitress for a spell in the famous Bewley’s restaurants in Dublin. After a stint working at Dublin and London’s Heathrow airports, she studied for a master’s degree at University College Dublin in strategy and organisational psychology.
The eldest of eight children, Catherine has come a long way from the day she took part in a radio phone-in debate on Midwest Radio in Sligo when she berated the glass-ceiling preventing Irish women from progressing in their chosen careers. Running the catering for the London 2012 Olympics is just the latest challenge for this remarkable Irish woman. And after her spectacular results in Beijng four years ago, it show just how far she has progressed.