Should I Stay or Should I Go
Being an Olympian means you get to stay at the Olympic Village with some very famous people. But not if the very famous people don’t stay there. Cyclist Bradley Wiggins, who just became Britain’s most decorated Olympian, said he saw Rafael Nadal unwisely mixing his whites and colors in the laundry room. The U.S. basketball team doesn’t stay there—the beds are too small—but they get mobbed when they visit. And good thing Roger Federer stayed in the Village in Sydney eight years ago—he met his wife there.
“Everywhere, everything is dangerously free.” Team barbecues, coffee after coffee after coffee, unlimited 24/7 access to the food hall, McDonald’s (it’s busy from day one). There are game rooms, where people do nothing except play videogames, sometimes all night, to the point of almost missing their competitions.
“Play guess-the-sport (shaven legs and tiny little T-Rex arms—cyclists; heaviest makeup—synchronized swimmers) and take your Olympic manual to tick off the rare or more beautiful species. Swedish sailing team—tick. French volleyball—tick. Cuban heavyweight boxer—tick … Playing human safari, spotting the most unusual shapes and sizes, is a good way to kill time in the Village.” There’s also a lot of flirting. More on that later.
Skipping the Opening Ceremony
It might seem like a great honor to attend the Opening Ceremony, but lots of athletes actually would rather sit it out, because “90 percent of the four-hour marathon is dull or weird. Or both.” Some athletes also don’t want to be on their feet for that long ahead of a competition.
In Athens, the British Olympic Association booked a school as a private getaway for British athletes—a team lodge. At night, athletes visit the various other team lodges and party. The Dutch lodge is called the Heineken House. In London, the Germans hired the Museum of London Docklands. In Beijing, Budweiser sponsored the American House and created Club Bud, a 3,600-square-meter space that was the place to be. Free beer everywhere, but that’s too bad, because Olympians have a low tolerance (most have been training and swearing off alcohol for years).
But they can dance all night—they’re the world’s best athletes.
“Those at Athens still talk about the Sports Illustrated event,” the Secret Olympian writes. Another British medallist recalled: “It was awesome. You had topless dancers. The U.S. synchronized swimming team doing their thing in the pool.” Swimsuit models were there.
The most poignant party was held in Munich in 1972, after 11 Israeli athletes were killed by terrorists. “Following the closing ceremony, the athletes returned to the Village and converged on the discotheque … athletes of all nations singing along to [John] Lennon in one unified voice.”
“Sex, and plenty of it, increasing exponentially through the Games as more and more athletes finish competing,” the Secret Olympian writes. Condoms were first distributed in significant amounts at the Seoul Games in 1988. The 1990 Albertville Winter Games officials had to refill the condom machines every two hours. Two years later, at Barcelona, between 50,000 and 80,000 condoms were distributed to 9,500 athletes. Atlanta was less sexy: 15,000 condoms for 10,500 athletes. In Sydney, the number jumped back to 70,000—for the first week. Authorities had to order an additional 20,000. By Salt Lake City in 2002, a plan was announced to distribute 250,000, later cut to 100,000. Athens stood at 130,000, Beijing readied 100,000, and Vancouver another 100,000.
“However, I’m sorry to admit that there isn’t quite as much sex as these headline-grabbing statistics indicate,” the Secret Olympian says. A hockey player reported the Indian team dumping hundreds of them in their kit bags so they could sell them back home. Another British hockey player, Steven Batchelor, said the team made water-bombs with them and chucked them at people in the Village.
All the food is free, so it’s not uncommon for athletes to chow down three or four ice-cream bars a day. And after a big night out, post-competition athletes gather at McDonald’s, which is the only branded food outlet because of its sponsorship. “Maurice Greene, the American sprinter, was even spotted in Athens enjoying a Big Mac … the day before his 4 x 100m final.”
The closing ceremony is especially poignant, as many athletes face the reality of putting an end to something they’ve dreamed about and worked at for years. A few bask in glory. Most lament missed chances or wish they’d performed better.
You get to meet the queen and the prime minister when you go back home, and there’s probably a few months of congratulatory visits from friends and families—and partying and sponsorships for the most famous athletes. But after that, it’s life: “What the hell do I do now?”