London 2012: Shiny, happy Olympic village people
The beds are small, the decor is basic. But the athletes now checking into their temporary base in Stratford seem thrilled with it. Is the Olympic party finally starting?
It may have taken American hurdler Kerron Clement four hours to get from Heathrow to the Athletes' Village, but news of what awaits the world's sporting finest when they arrive in their temporary home travels a lot faster than an Olympic transfer bus.
With little more than a week to go until the opening ceremony, around 1,300 of the 18,000 athletes and officials that will stay in London's Olympic and Paralympic Athletes' village over the coming month have already arrived and, thanks to Twitter, we have already seen more of it than at any previous Games.
Diver Tom Daley and swimmer Rebecca Adlington are among many who have posted pictures of their rooms – in Adlington's case to apologise for its already unkempt state: "Only been here a few hours and my room is a mess!!!"
Daley, on the other hand, spent some time putting up Olympic bunting and posters. "My room in the Olympic village all decorated :) heading back to Southend now for our pre-camp...back on the 25th :D" he wrote to his 250,000 followers.
In a year's time, when the Qatari government puts East Village – as it will be known under its ownership – on the market, it will look like just another apartment complex. Two, three and four bedroom homes, in tasteful little concrete cuboids, set around little green lawns. But it will forever be infused with the chapter in London's history now rapidly writing itself.
The Australians were the first to mark out their territory. The word A-U-S-T-R-A-L-I-A is now spelt out nine storeys high in green and gold flags, amid southern crosses and boxing kangaroos. Across two sides of one thoroughfare one set of towels proclaims "Ozzie! Ozzie! Ozzie!" and another answers "Oi! Oi! Oi!"
The Czechs, South Koreans, Cubans, Mexicans and Slovenians have all followed suit, as have the Swiss and the Danish, next door to one another, a little inconveniently, given the similarity of their national banners. At some point Roger Federer is expected to check in to one of these rooms. Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and the rest of the TeamGB football squad stayed the night on Monday, but yesterday headed off to Middlesbrough for a friendly against Brazil.
The Swiss delegation is probably the easiest to assign a space for. In all, 203 countries have teams staying in the village, many of whom's animosity towards one another extends far beyond the synchronised swimming pool.
Israel and Iran are housed at opposite ends of the village; TeamGB are suitably far away from their Argentine counterparts; and the German contingent have been placed a good distance from the Greeks.
But they needn't worry. Olympic athletes tend to make love not war. The Sydney village ran out of its 70,000 condoms and had to call in 20,000 more. Athens went for 180,000 – too many – but things were very different then. Beijing provided 100,000 but, typically, have never divulged if there were any left over. Durex are providing "tens of thousands" this time round but, as they are not an official sponsor, they will be in unbranded packets.
Among those treated to a sneak peak of the casa del Daley was one of his followers, US diving counterpart Kassidy Cook, the subject of suggestions that something might be in the air up there on the 10 metre platform. Even TeamGB Deputy Chef de Mission Sir Clive Woodward admitted to The Independent while walking through the entrance gates: "I've just been checking the beach volleyballers in. Someone's got to do it."
Daley's friend, 10 metre synchronised diver Tonia Couch, was among the first to use the free athletes hair and beauty salon. It is the most popular facility in the village and is one of the few areas of the park staffed not by volunteers but by highly trained staff.
Every set of Olympic rings you see shaved into the back of someone's hair this summer, every set of nails painted in national colours, every strategically shaved eyebrow will have been done in this one little room.
"The Globe" bar and social area has already become a hub. Among its amenities are a music studio complete with baseball bats, squash rackets and ping pong paddles, to be used as percussive instruments in the recording of one's own track.
There are pool tables, computer games and movie nights but – with the small matter of gold medals to be won – the bar serves only the produce of its leading soft drinks manufacturer sponsor. Some have their own rooms, but others will have to share. Some have panoramic views of the sporting theatres, others look over "Victory Park" and its contemporary artwork.
All have the same duvet covers, with a tiled pattern of the 26 Olympic sports. These are for the athletes to keep, and cannot be bought.
The most sought-after rooms are the ones nearest to the 5,000-seater dining room, a neon strip-lit Serengeti with bench after bench of plastic primary school seats.
"Room for 880 double-decker buses," according to Janet Matthews, who is in charge of catering for the entire Olympics, not just the athletes, which involves 27,000 staff and many many millions of meals, 1.2 million of which will be served in her sprawling canteen.
Asian, Best of British, Halal and Caribbean all have their own stands, next to cavernous fridges of the official soft beverage.
"Eating at the Olympic Village. Love the variety of food choices," hurdler Clemont tweeted, perhaps by way of tacit apology for his bus complaint that led evening news bulletins across the world.
Fellow US 400m runner Tony McQuay tweeted repeatedly about the "beautiful village", adding: "OMG this place just got even better with the food...I'm in heaven. I wish I could bring this village back to the US."
The Best of Britain section looms large in the dining room, which Olympic law dictates must have below it its official translation – "Specialites de Grande-Bretagne," printed on a huge canvas banner.
Matthews's previous job was feeding British soldiers in Germany, quite a few of whom have now followed her here due to the G4S security debacle. "An army matches on its stomach," she explained. "And that's true for athletes as well."
She added: "When I arrived, I was all, oooh, what can we do here, fancy this and that. I found out that athletes just care about carbohydrate and protein. It's chicken, pasta, rice, toast, porridge."
Above every seemingly inoffensive carton of cucumber at the buffet is a very precise indication of fat, carbohydrate and calorific content. They're fussy eaters, the Olympians, but that's probably fair enough.
At one end, inevitably, is a sizeable McDonalds, at which queues are expected to grow as the Games progress. Karen Pickering, the former Olympic swimmer, was involved in deciding who would get the catering contract. "I just spent three days eating," she said. "Like a big wedding."
A lot like a university in its exam-filled summer term, Ms Pickering says the mood in the athletes' village slowly changes as more and more competitors finish.
"The social areas get busier, the queues in the shops get longer. And people stampede towards the McDonalds." God help us. Everyone's far too excited already.
Olympic villages: A Brief history
At the Paris Chariots of Fire Games in 1924, a number of cabins were built near the stadium to house visiting athletes, but as with so much Olympic symbolism, it was Hitler at the Berlin Games of 1936 that ratcheted up the significance of the Athletes' Village.
The Nazis constructed 145 one and two-storey apartment buildings, with a theatre, hospital and other amenities. Only ruins remain now, although Jesse Owens' house has been restored.
Warring nations regularly share Olympic villages, and it is now customary for each country to sign a "truce wall", on taking residency – one has been built in London this year.
The massacre of nine Israeli athletes in the Munich village in 1972 at the hands of Palestinian terrorists is the Olympic movement's darkest moment.
But the words of the Czech gold medal-winning middle distance runner Emil Zatopek, who came to London in 1948, are also worth remembering:
"After all those dark days of the war, the bombing, the killing, the starvation, the revival of the Olympics was as if the sun had come out... I went into the Olympic Village and suddenly there were no more frontiers, no more barriers. Just the people meeting together. It was wonderfully warm. Men and women who had just lost five years of life were back again."
No horsing around for Romney
It is news that is unlikely to burnish his "man of the people" qualifications: Mitt Romney's Olympic 'ballet-dancing" horse has arrived in Britain in time to prepare for its role representing the US in the Dressage competition in the Games.
Rafalca is a 15-year-old German-born horse purchased by the Romney family and friends in 2006 for around $100,000 (£64,000).
The horse has now been flown into London on a FedEx chartered jet from Gladstone, New Jersey, home of the US Equestrian Team.
Mr Romney will arrive in London on Thursday and is holding Republican fundraisers and meeting David Cameron before leaving Saturday after the Opening Ceremonies.
Britons to follow Games at work
Many workers plan to watch or listen to the Olympics during office hours, according to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.
Ofcom found that at least 38 million British adults plan to tune in, with 25 per cent planning to do so at work.
More than 2,500 hours of live Olympic coverage will be shown over the 17 days of the Games, starting on 27 July.
A soundtrack for cycling
The Chemical Brothers are releasing a cycling-inspired song for the Games.
They have composed "Theme For Velodrome", which will be the soundtrack to the track-cycling events. They were inspired by Kraftwerks' 1983 hit "Tour de France".
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