London throws open doors to athletes' village
London has unveiled its $NZ1.95 billion (£1 billion) Olympic village, a mini-city in the formerly downtrodden East End boasting plush apartment blocks and facilities that mayor Boris Johnson says will provide athletes with "just about every form of legal entertainment".
Team officials began checking into the 36-hectare village on Thursday ahead of the arrival of athletes, who are due to start trickling in on Monday. About 15,500 will call the village home during the Olympic Games, which will formally kick off after the opening ceremony on July 27.
"It is more luxurious than the most luxurious Forte Village to be found on the Costa Smeralda and it knocks Club Med into a cocked hat in my view," said Johnson. "They [the athletes] can have their hair done, they can have their nails done, they can have just about every form of legal entertainment in London."
Australia's 410 athletes, and the accompanying team officials, will have their own designated section of the sprawling complex, set around lush parkland in the heart of Olympic Park. They will be housed within 2818 apartments, sleeping in quarters ranging from one-bedroom flats to four and five-bed townhouses. The apartments, which will primarily be rented out rather than sold after the Games, each have their own lounge, with a television and free broadband.
They will eat in a 24-hour dining room the size of a hangar and which serves everything from English favourites such as toad-in-the-hole to Caribbean and African cuisine as well as, of course, McDonald's.
Elsewhere, the athletes have their own high street of shops including a florist, convenience store, post office, dry cleaner and a beauty and grooming outlet.
The social precinct of the village is called The Globe, which has all the hallmarks of a bar except that it does not sell alcohol. Officially the entire village is a booze and drugs-free zone, although athletes with a penchant for partying have smuggled in alcohol at previous Games. While the beverage list is limited to water and the sponsor-provided isotonic and soft drinks, there is plenty to do at The Globe. It has pool and football tables, a gaming area, an outdoor cinema, a clothing exchange and a stage where athletes will be able to sing with live acts.
Also within the village is a gym, an internet cafe, a health clinic for treating injuries and an adjoining pharmacy, which among other medicinal products will distribute up to 150,000 condoms.
The opening of the village to local and foreign media on Thursday did not begin to plan - the drivers of the double-decker red buses ferrying reporters and cameramen around initially went the wrong way - but Johnson is adamant the London Games will reach new heights. It is the first Games since Sydney in 2000 that could potentially claim its unofficial title as the "best ever".
"I think we will have the best ever Olympic Games," Johnson said. "I think the hundreds of thousands and millions of people who are going to come to this park, they're going to come to London, and they're going to have a most wonderful time."
There is danger the 16-day extravaganza could be drenched by one of England's wettest ever summers but Johnson, drawing on his well-known sense of humour, said he welcomed whatever the weather threw up.
"If there is a little bit of rain it doesn't matter. It'd be a shame if we didn't have some rain," the mayor said. "I think it would be unusual and disappointing if we didn't have a large amount of rain. People are braced for [it]. It's England in July, come on. I think, dramatically speaking, a certain amount of precipitation is probably essential and we're going to enjoy it."
Sydney Morning Herald