Rooms with Views: Olympic Village ready to go

Associated Press
Tower blocs of the Athletes' Village soar over Victory Park on Saturday, June 30, 2012. Olympic organizers showed off the village to a select group of visitors as a test run of their services before athletes arrive for the London Olympics, which start July 27 and end Aug. 12. (AP Photo/Danica Kirka)
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LONDON (AP) — Usain Bolt can thank me anytime for helping ensure that he gets a good night's sleep at this summer's London Olympics.

Organizers held a slumber party this weekend, opening the big glass doors and immense dining halls of the Athletes' Village to several hundred journalists, local officials and assorted others in a trial run - giving games planners a chance to work out the glitches before the Olympians arrive. I was a willing guinea pig.

This wasn't a stress test really. Stress comes in just a few weeks when 16,000 athletes and officials come rolling in, a flag-waving tide of youth and vigor, ready to play. No, no, this was just a little warm up trot - and let's be frank - a big party at a way above average location.

"It's to help us flesh out the glitches," said Nigel Garfitt, the director of the village and games services.

There were a few of those. The chatter at the breakfast table Saturday morning, particularly at the journalist end, was about all the things that went wrong. There was no water in my room for example (whoops!) and a village crew thought that 3:30 a.m. was a good time to dig up paving stones outside my window.

That's why Usain, the word-famous Jamaican sprinter, can thank me, because it gives me a chance to make this suggestion to Sebastian Coe, the head of the organizing committee: Please don't dig up the street in the middle of the night! Olympians are slumbering.

That said, since this is the closest I'll ever come to being an Olympian, these minor mishaps must be taken in stride, particularly as it is clear that the village is within a whisker of being ready. For this village there will be no disasters in landscaping such as occurred in the Athens Olympics, where the outside of many venues were bare. In London, the grass is manicured within an inch of its existence - you weren't even allowed to walk on its lush cushiness unless you ditched your shoes.

Much of the village is that way - it looks as if it were lifted from an architectural drawing and broadcast on a big empty space. It's kind of boxy and utilitarian, but very tidy. Its monochrome-ness will offer a good backdrop for the athletes, who will drape flags from the balconies and transform it with color.

The rooms are spare but designed first and foremost with the athletes in mind. Beds for the tall and small. Mattresses wear-tested by former Olympians. Bedside lamps that work. Blackout curtains to make the room dark should the sun ever decide to shine in this light-deprived nation.

The duvets feature pictograms of the Olympic sports, and the communal areas offer sofas in electric aqua with hot pink cushions.

The televisions will feature an Olympic broadcast channel showing the action but no commentary. There's WiFi and a laundrette in the basement.

There are no kitchens - but who needs to cook? Just a short stroll away, in the shadow of the basketball arena known as "the Meringue," is the massive dining facility, which will operate for 24 hours a day and seat 5,000 at a time.

The size of several American football fields, it features cuisine from each of the continents, and includes a Halal pod - food prepared in compliance with Islamic guidelines. It is the pride and joy of Jan Matthews, the head of catering.

Matthews once ran catering for the British army in Germany and knows a thing or two about serving on a huge scale. That's kind of necessary, as this is a place where having seconds or sixths is just fine. Portion sizes are up to the athletes. No charge.

Non-Olympians won't really get a chance to eat here, unless they have some super special reason to be with a team. Heads of state are known to pull up trays with their squads, but there's no VIP treatment for them here.

"This is about the athletes," she said. "It's not about anyone else."

Besides food, other diversions and services beckon along tidy paths with sporty names such as Champions Walk, Medals Way or Celebration Avenue. There is a post office, a nail bar, a Lloyds Bank, and hairdressers where free styling and shaves are on offer.

Judging by past games, athletes will get the Olympic rings shaved into their hair, according to Emily Brett, the athletes' services manager.

But just to make sure no one gets bored, there's also a recreation zone called The Globe, after the theater most closely associated with William Shakespeare. It has sort of a pub-like feel, though no alcohol will be served, making it unpub-like to anyone who lives in Britain, but never mind.

It features light boxes that say things like "fun fun fun," ''Wow" and "Boogie." There's a bar, a stage, a music studio, pool tables, a computer gaming area and TVs.

"It is going to be the buzziest place in the Athletes' Village," Brett said.

Just over 200 national Olympic committees will be represented, and each will get a little welcoming ceremony all their own that features the playing of national anthems. With so many athletes and committees, it may take as long as four days to run through them all. But there will be one for everyone, as organizers want to make it special for the athletes - the people without whom there wouldn't be any games.

As one might expect at an event about the Athletes' Village, concerns about the competitors' happiness came up a lot. But the slumber party was also about the thousands of people who make up an Olympics - the caterers, the transport workers, the firefighters and so on who have worked - some for many years - on a project whose primary goal is to show Britain at its most welcoming.

"We wanted to use it as a thank you to them," Garfitt said before he gleefully described all the forms he would scoop up with "feedback," on the event.

"It makes it all real," he said.

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