Athletes’ Village

Finnish Cross Country Relay Team on Way to Medals Ceremony

Two days ago we visited the Olympic Village, the secretive place south of Whistler that houses hundreds of athletes from 81 countries, in addition to their coaches, physical therapists, officials and anyone else the athletes need with them to accomplish what they’ve come here to do.

The athletes village is the most difficult place to get into in Whistler, which adds to its aura of mystery and the many rumors surrounding it. One story, confirmed by multiple sources, was that, in addition to a restaurant serving foods from around the world, a state of the art gymnasium, and musical entertainment, athletes were also provided with 100,000 condoms. Moreover, a week after the games began, officials from the Canadian Health department were seen delivering fresh boxes of condoms.

The athlete’s village is a lot more peaceful than one might expect. You hear about condom deliveries and you imagine utter debauchery.

But then you remember that athletes are here first and foremost to compete at the highest levels in their disciplines in the world. And you realize that most athletes probably only let loose once they win a medal, like the Canadian ladies bobsled team which won gold in Whistler on Thursday and was seen partying late into the evening at the GLC and then at the Longhorn, dancing onstage with The Roots.

But back to the Athlete’s Village. When you’re here it’s clear some serious work actually goes on. Everywhere you look, athletes are jogging side by side: a Slovenian and his coach here, three young Swedish women there, a very sweaty Brit across the street. Everyone is wearing athletic gear, with country colors and names proudly emblazoned on them, all the time. No one wears street clothes.

A shuttle bus with a friendly driver circles the athletes village, taking only a few minutes to complete the loop. Should you choose to ride the bus, be sure to have country pins on hand, because the trades on the bus are ongoing and nearly obligatory.

The athlete’s village is both smaller and more spread out than we expected. It looks like a ski town somewhere in Europe, complete with a stream running through it. The bus travels first along the main path with the largest permanent structures to the left side. These are the attractive three-story wood and glass buildings that house the gym, entertainment lounge and so forth.

In between them is an open grassy area with decorative touches designed to evoke the spirit and look of these Winter Games, including an obelisk that’s lit up at night in the Olympics theme colors of green, blue and pale purple, an ethereal green wire sculpture, and antique medal gondola car. On the right are white tents with temporary facilities like the medical center and the massive dining hall, which I’ll describe later.

After passing the main common areas, the bus loops left and uphill towards the housing and offices for each NOC (National Olympic Committee). These are located within charming, narrow three-story units in pleasant earthy colors that look straight out of a suburb in Scandinavia. These quaint condos serve as offices and housing for the athletes, while many coaches and support staff stay in trailers that will be removed when the games end.

Once the games are over, walls within the condos themselves will be rearranged, and appliances installed in now unfurnished kitchen areas, transforming the condos into employee housing.

It’s not hard to tell which countries are located where. Every unit is clearly identified with a huge flag from the home country hung from the second story window, making for a wonderful display in the serene little village.

We were able to visit the Athletes Village because each delegation has rights to a few guest passes per day, most of which it uses for athlete’s families. Since the Olympics are nearing a close, Jorma was able to use them for us.

It was a good day to visit the Finnish delegation, as the women’s hockey team had beat their longtime rivals, the Swedes, to earn a bronze in that event. And the Finnish women had also won a hard-fought bronze in the cross-country relay. Above is a photo of the Finnish cross-country relay team on their way to the medals ceremony in Whistler’s Medal Plaza.

After we photographed the Finnish bronze medallists, we went for dinner in the dining hall. The hall’s massive size is a reminder of just how big an event the Olympics are. In it’s first three days the dining hall served 50,000 meals. We were able to choose Asian food, Italian food, Continental food, and plenty of things in between. There was a pasta bar, a salad bar, a grill, and we could opt for as many servings of anything we wanted as many times as we wanted.

Because it’s a sponsor, there’s also a full service McDonalds within the food hall. Volunteers told us that as soon as athletes are done competing, they go for the McDonalds. Well, at least they wait until they’ve done their hard work before putting that stuff into their bodies.

Although she’s not staying there, Lindsey Vonn sat at the table behind ours in the dining hall. Everywhere we looked we saw young athletes in brightly colored workout gear — the green of Australia’s sports teams, the bright blue and yellow of Sweden or Croatia, the unmistakable red and white checks of Croatia — sitting together.

Of course, the athletes all appeared young, fit, healthy. And good looking. No wonder there was a box of free condoms in the ladies washroom.

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