Athletes and officials have already begun moving in to the Olympic Village, with the Aussies making themselves more comfortable last Wednesday after some teething problems. The poor state of the village would not have been a worry for Australian athletes, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) always ensures conditions are liveable - it's the bonus of having a politically strong and comparatively, wealthy Olympic Federation. Not every country is so well off or has the political clout of such a committee.
Some athletes will call the village "home" for almost a month if they stay until the end of the Games; Others who are competing later in the program, such as Mountain Bikers or Athletics sportspeople, will travel to Rio closer to the date of their competitions.
The most important part for athletes is that the village is functional. Yes, plumbing and basic amenities are vital. But if your accommodation is close to the dining hall, or to the transport mall which gets you to training and competition it makes life much easier.
The most important part for athletes is that the village is functional. Yes, plumbing and basic amenities are vital. But if your accommodation is close to the dining hall, or to the transport mall which gets you to training and competition it makes life much easier. Trust me, nobody wants to haul all their training gear to a far bus service.
Another big thing for an Olympic competitor, is to never lose your 'accreditation' - basically a big card hanging on a lanyard with your photo and sports details on a lanyard, that you get on arrival. It has all sorts of codes on it telling officials where you’re allowed access; village, dining hall, competition arena for your sport and you have to wear it everywhere. If it’s lost it can be a nightmare to replace! Security has beefed up incredibly since ‘96, when many athletes photocopied different sports logos and stuck them on their accreditation to gain access and watch other sports. Things have certainly changed!
Best things about the Olympic village:
- The realisation you’re finally here! It’s the culmination of all years of training and sacrifices. This is what it’s all about and starts to get real.
- The mix of countries and range of athletes really hits you. The bigger teams like Australia have their accommodation area well decorated, with green and gold as well as other Aussie paraphernalia to give it a feeling of 'home'. In recent times the U.S has actually been restrained in their promotion of their nationality within the village. The Israeli accommodation is usually surrounded by extra security measures within the village. And in Athens there was no grass (just dirt) in the area in front of Australia’s accommodation, so the AOC bought hundreds of metres of fake grass to create a great atmosphere; with garden decor like umbrellas, chairs and tables for some R&R.
- The 24-hour dining hall and other smaller eateries scattered throughout the village for snacks throughout the day. It’s a great place to socialise and meet internationals and other fellow Aussies.
- There is amazing camaraderie with every other person wearing green and gold. You can sit with an Aussie in the dining hall, who you mightn't know, but feel the companionship of just being united and end up as mates. You also get to meet the most interesting people from around the world, most athletes are open and friendly and it's usually happening in the main social area, the dining hall.
- The village is actually a world of it’s own - an escape from the real one. You don’t have to deal with media or any outsiders disturbing you. Although these days of ubiquitous social media means it’s more difficult to hideaway and it definitely changes the old saying, 'what happens in the village stays in the village'.
- Free laundry service, recreational activities, movies and free drinks at all vending machines, paid with the magic of using special keys.
- Live television feeds for all the events. Every Olympic sport event has live stream into the televisions in the accommodation. You’re not at the whim of TV channels deciding what you should watch. Usually the Australian accommodation will also have the Aussie TV coverage, including commentary.
- Families and friends can come into the village, but you usually have to apply for a special pass. They need to bring ID and be security screened and they’re given an allotted time to visit.
- Athletes can usually watch other sports by putting their name down for tickets. The tickets are free and the seats are in exclusive athlete areas. High demand sports with little spectator space are difficult to obtain, so too are finals. I remember one Olympics and an Aussie athlete contingent of no less than 100 gained entry to the Boomers game against the Dream Team with some sweet-talking from the great motivator Lawrie Lawrence! We were on an Olympic high - first watching the Hockeyroos win gold and then got to see the basketball.
The bad and 'the ugly'...
- Too much time socialising and grazing in dining hall can lead to weight gain - no a joke. I have seen lean athletes pile on the weight in the short time they’re at the village.
- It can become monotonous especially athletes arriving now and spending an entire month in the village.
- Olympics overkill. Sometimes you need an outlet to get away from it all. They have village recreation centres and movies, but you’re still at the Olympics. Some athletes thrive off the hype and others find it tiring, the most successful handle this well.
- The Olympics brings out the best in athletes, but it can also bring out the worst. If you’re sharing a room or apartment with an athlete who is difficult to deal with or simply, not coping with the pressure of the games it can have a detrimental effect on you and other teammates. Although I've never had this problem, I know of athletes’ Olympic experience somewhat ruined by a person making life difficult for others; it’s a rare occurrence but does happen.
- Media preoccupation with certain things. For example, 'how many condoms were given out at the athletes’ village' and other stories looking for something to “verify” that there was an Olympic orgy. Sure, if you get the world’s best athletes at a party there is going to be lots of hook-ups, but it's nothing like the media suggest through a statistic on numbers of condoms distributed. If anything, I think that it was just a lot of athletes taking advantage of free stuff.
- The village can get a little rowdy towards the end of the Games, so if you’re competing it can be challenging to rest. Most athletes are respectful and they do their partying away from the village, but there have been a few instances where there have been issues, especially when the buildings are not soundproof.
But at the end of the final day of competition 10,000 athletes celebrate the end of the biggest competition of their lives. After four years of dedication to training, it’s time to let their hair down. Win, lose or draw Olympic athletes know how to have a good time!
Jane Saville is an Australian Olympic race walker and four time Olympian. Saville won bronze at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.