Originally published August 28. Julia Wilkinson has since provided photos seen to the right.
Column by Kristen Heiss
COLLEGE STATION, Texas, August 28. WITH thousands of athletes milling around and a 24-hour cafeteria for the hungry competitors, the Olympic Village is truly a small city. The Village is always one of the highlights at the Olympics for the athletes. Everyone at home watching the Games hears about the Village on television, but most are left wondering about the city of athletes. So, Swimming World asks what is the Village really like?
The athletes slept in standard rooms, each with two twin beds, two closets, two desks, lamps, and a table. Greeting each athlete when they walked into their room was a framed picture on the bed for the athlete to take home. The pictures were drawn by Chinese children and then framed as gifts for the Olympic competitors.
One of the first things the athletes mention when talking about the Village is the eating hall. Triin Aljand, who competed for Estonia in the Olympics, said that there is every kind of food imaginable in the Village cafeteria. An athlete could find the stereotypical American fast food, like McDonalds, which had a sign reading "Breakfast of Champions" in the cafeteria at the village. Aljand said that as the Games progressed and more athletes finished competing, the number of people eating at McDonalds increased significantly. For those competitors who weren't looking for a burger and fries before their main event, the cafeteria in the Village offered a variety of choices, including Mediterranean and traditional Asian cuisine. Aljand also commented on the wide variety of fruits that one could find at the cafeteria. Another hit among the swimmers was the bowl of Snickers.
Besides the food, there were also several other useful amenities in the Village. There was a large arcade where the athletes could spend time to get their minds off the Games. If the athletes grew bored playing inside, they could stroll out to the Gardens. Or if walking around the Village became too tedious, there were buses running all around the Village and to the Olympic venues.
Not only were the athletes in the Village fed and entertained, but the health clinic was available to keep the athletes in top condition. Called the Polyclinic, the main medical center in the village was the hub for any possible malady that an athlete might need treated. Alia Atkinson, a competitor for Jamaica at the Games, said that her teammate had a root canal done at the Polyclinic while staying at the Village.
There was also plenty of opportunity for socializing in the Village. Atkinson said that you could "walk out your door and meet someone new everyday." One of the best ways to break the ice and to meet someone new was to trade pins. For Atkinson, meeting other athletes was the best part of the Games, whether they were stars of the Olympics or not. At one point, Atkinson was walking down the hall and saw a large gathering of people taking pictures with a tall man. She didn't recognize him, and finally asked someone, who said the man was the Tae Kwon Do world champion. For some of the mainstream athletes, however, it was difficult to remain out of the limelight while at the Village. As one Olympic coach said, if a crowd of athletes went running by, it was because they were heading to accost a well-known athlete. Apparently Kobe Bryant and Yao Ming were especially popular in the Village, and these athletic stars were constantly being followed by a string of admirers.
All in all, living in the Olympic Village sounds like the ideal life for an athlete. However, the average citizen shouldn't get their hopes up: security to get into the Olympic Village is extremely tight, with security stations posted at each of the four entrances. However, as Atkinson said, the athlete credentials were like having a "passport" to the Olympic Village, and it must have been an experience to be able to live in the city of athletes at the 2008 Olympic Games.