Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

The Olympic Village: Where Ryan Giggs meets Usain Bolt

LONDON - JULY 12: General views of the Olympic Village at the Olympic Park on July 12, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
A bed on display during a media tour of the Olympic Village, London
A mock up of an Athletes bedroom during a media tour of the Olympic Village, London
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 15: The Athletes Village at the Olympic Park on July 15, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
LONDON - JULY 12: General views of the Olympic Village at the Olympic Park on July 12, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
LONDON - JULY 12: Mayor of London Boris Johnson tests out a bed on his visit to the Olympic Park and Olympic Village on July 12, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Scott Heavey - Pool/Getty Images)

Telegraph Group Sports Editor Jim Gracey gets an inside view of London 2012 last minute preparations

Ryan Giggs will not have experienced dormitory conditions such as these since his early Manchester United days at the Milk Cup, up on our own north coast.

Relatively spartan, compared to what they are used to, the Olympic village will at some stage over the next four weeks become home to the world's greatest sportsmen and women, from Usain Bolt to Michael Phelps to Chris Hoy to Serena Williams.

All will stay in one of the 2,818 apartments constructed on the eastern side of the Olympic Park with their basic furniture, shared bathrooms and lounges and 24-hour dining hall. Even the Premiership’s richest and finest will, by their standards, rough it here.

The Football Association has promised that Team GB's footballers will spend time in the village as part of the 16,000 athletes, coaches and officials now quartered there, ready for the Games to begin.

And the shared space will not be what Giggs and Co have become accustomed to on their superstar travels.

The apartment blocks resemble well-to-do student residences with their single beds and flat-pack furniture (40 people have been employed in the village since October, assembling 16,000 beds, 11,000 sofas and 9,000 wardrobes).

But this is part of the Olympic experience, and by and large it is one athletes of all levels relish. Four years ago Lionel Messi was a happy member of the Beijing village people.

“It is,” says Jonathan Edwards, perched on a bed in the Olympic village, “a remarkable environment.”

Former triple jump champion Edwards is chair of the athletes' panel consulted on the village accomodation and as a veteran of four Olympiads, he’s well qualified. His role at these Games includes sleep-testing the beds for comfort — eight different mattresses were tried before making the choice.

“The beautiful irony of the Olympics,” he adds, “is that it's the most important competition of your life and, you can argue, the least advantageous conditions.

“You go to a world championships and you're in a single room with an en-suite, whereas here you are sharing. I remember in Sydney being nose to nose with Steve Backley snoring.

“Every athlete will come to an Olympic village understanding the parameters they have to deal with but at the same time it is the atmosphere here that makes it special.”

The £1bn village is made up of 11 residential blocks, 10 of which are constructed around their own landscaped courtyard.

There will be shops, including a beauty salon for that pre-medal ceremony titivation, and a separate dining area which can feed 5,000 per sitting; a pub-style beer garden, but no beer. Not far away is a 4,000-seater McDonalds that will be dismantled after the Paralympic closing ceremony in September.

At the same time, the apartments will be converted into housing.

With police and troops drafted in following the G4S fiasco, security is tight, with airport-style checks and CCTV around the fenced perimeter. Some teams will also bring their own security personnel although Tony Sainsbury, head of the village, insists that Olympic legends of extensive partying are far from the truth. “It's really quite boring,” he says. Edwards, though, did once criticise swimmers for their non-sporting village pastimes.

“You are nervous when you arrive in an Olympic village,” says Edwards. “What are conditions going to be like for the most important competition of your life?

“It's not that everything has to be perfect, just that basics are taken care of. The beds are good enough, black-out blinds so you can have a good night's sleep, good food in the dining hall and services like transport. That's what we focused on in the athletes’ committee — the nuts and bolts.”

His committee even considered the waiting time for lifts in the apartment blocks. It's one minute.

All beds are single — to the possible disappointment of swimmers — and all are extendable — to the relief of basketballers.

The rooms are not spacious but are bright and neat. There is a wardrobe, two bedside cabinets, two bedside lamps and two beds. Competitors can take home the duvet covers, that garishly display the Olympic sports.

For the first time each apartment will be fitted with a TV on which athletes can receive live feeds of all 28 Olympic sports. They can also pay to upgrade to movie channels.

They will watch these, relaxing inlounges fitted out with garish aqua-marine sofas dotted with pink cushions. The apartments are not large but each has a good-sized balcony, many now draped with national flags.

“There's a feel of camaraderie, support,” sums up Edwards of the village experience.

“It's a great place to be. I know what it's like to turn up at an Olympics with all those hopes and fears. You have to have the platform right. It's not a five-star resort but for an Olympic village this is outstanding.”

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