Monday, July 28, 2008

Olympic Village: home for all athletes

Olympic Village: home for all athletes

By Sportswriter Lou Chen

BEIJING, July 27 (Xinhua) -- Italian lasagna, Beijing roast duck or kosher foods? Athletes from more than 200 countries and regions may find their favorite home foods in the Beijing Olympic Village.

The diversity of meals, divided into different zones including Chinese, Asian, international and Mediterranean, underlines the meticulous preparation in the village which houses about 16,000 athletes, coaches and their entourage. The village officially opened on Sunday.

"We want to make this place a nice, quiet and comfortable place to stay, a place that feels like home," said village secretary-general Wu Jingmi.

The sprawling complex, which runs 800 meters from north to south and 900 meters across, is only 20 minutes walk northwest of two centerpiece Games venues - the Bird's Nest stadium and aquatic venue Water Cube. The distance is one of the closest in all Olympics.

The village contains a main restaurant that can feed 5,000 people, teahouses, coffee shops, a barbershop, post office, shops, library and a clinic.

In catering alone, some 100 foreign and 2,300 Chinese chefs and waiters offer 24-hour service every day. Menus change every eight days, and the meals are athletes special.

"We have very strict rules to make sure the foods are safe and calories for each dish are made clear for the athletes own discretion, because there may be stringent weight rules in some events," Wu said.

Hundreds of home-style foods, along with customized beds, space for religious masses and entertainment facilities, are part of the efforts to provide comfortable stay for all athletes, Wu said.

Other services like chances of getting a Chinese name add colors to their Olympic experience. "I believe they will find it interesting to stay here," Wu said.

Construction of the complex started in the summer of 2005, and the total of 42 apartment buildings were built with water recycling technologies, environmentally friendly construction materials and solar-powered lighting. The apartments save two thirds of the energy costs of ordinary ones in Beijing.

Alternative-fuelled vehicles carry athletes within the village, to and from the Olympic venues. The complex was built according to IOC (International Olympic Committee) rules, Wu said, but elements of Chinese culture have been weaved into the design and decoration, making it not just any another Olympic village.

It used the colors of Beijing's grey brick walls, white stone balconies, paper-cuts and red lanterns. Cultural performances like embroidery, woodcarving, painting and Beijing Opera mask will be held in the courtyard of the international zone.

"The village is a place where the athletes can unwind and get to know Chinese culture. We want to give them a full experience with Chinese culture," said Deng Yaping, a famed Olympic table tennis champion and deputy village head.

In line with IOC regulations, a religious center had been set up in the village, she said.

Deng said on Friday that 46 countries and regions have had some representation in the village since its preliminary opening on July 20. The village is expected to be fully lodged.

Secretary-general Wu said thousands of staff and volunteers are ready to receive the athletes, and anticipated no easy task. "We have made several hundreds of plans for every type of contingencies, but security, services and management are still big challenges," he said.

The single task of taking all the athletes to the opening ceremony on Aug. 8 is daunting. "We have to arrange 360 buses to take them to the Bird's Nest. The whole process will take at least one and half hour, and that's only possible if the cooperation between the village and the delegations goes well," he said.

Before the July 20 test run, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) President Liu Qi said a well-run Olympic Village was a significant part of a successful Games. He ordered the village staff to keep working on the details and provide maximal possible service to all the athletes.

The village will close on Aug. 27. Also as the Paralympic Village, it will reopen on Aug. 30 and close on Sept. 20.

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