AFTER POLISHING OFF an email at an overflowing Internet center in the Olympic Village last Thursday, U.S. taekwondo fighter Steven Lopez turned to his brother and coach, Jean, and said, "So where do we go from here?" That's a tough call each day for the 10,500 athletes and 5,500 officials living in the largest village ever built for a Games--366 buildings covering 306 acres. U.S. softball players bought out one store's supply of scooters to get around in the village, which is 22 miles north of downtown Athens and includes a bank, post office, religious center, library, souvenir store, open-air cinema (featuring, among other flicks, The Missing and Anger Management) and 5,000-seat dining hall. In the dining hall American athletes are recognizable as the ones seemingly always carrying trays of McDonald's burgers past food stations offering Asian, Greek and other international fare. "People are calling that the walk of shame because of those of us who pass up all the great food," says U.S. canoeist Joe Jacobi.
Cuban athletes have hung banners over the balconies of their dormitories in which Fidel Castro is depicted playing chess as both a young and an old man. Athletes from New Zealand created a lounge they call Mother Earth, complete with sculptures and indoor gardens. The Australians, apparently dismayed by the dirt path fronting the doorway to their quarters, purchased mulch and built a garden. The British team brought with them a golf cart psychedelically decorated to resemble a vehicle in an Austin Powers film. At the base of the International Zone, a meeting and pin-trading point for many athletes, Aguida Amaral, a marathoner from East Timor, stared last week at a row of 202 flags lining a giant walkway. "That is the best part for me," said Amaral, whose country is making its first appearance in the Games as an independent nation. "I am happy because I see all the flags from the other countries, and now I can see my flag." --B.C.
Photograph by Lynn Johnson
In the vast and humming Olympic Village, a trim was just one option open to Lopez and the 10,500 athlete-inhabitants. (The lucky ones found scooters.)