BARCELONA, SPAIN — WITHOUT question, the "in" address in Catalonia's capital city these days belongs to the magic kingdom of international hostelries - the Olympic Village. That's where athletes and officials from 172 nations break bread together, exchange pleasantries and Olympic pins, and generally lay the groundwork for the good will that is part and parcel of the Games.
"It's not a five-star hotel," says American weight lifter Bryan Jacob. "If you could afford a five-star hotel, you wouldn't get the full feel of the Olympics."
True enough, but Jacob is hardly slumming in the digs that have been constructed on the shores of the Mediterranean. The complex of mainly six-story apartment buildings, like much of Barcelona, possesses an abundance of architectural style. This ambitious urban-renewal project, which has transformed a dilapidated industrial area, will surely be one of the city's richest Olympic legacies.
"It would be quite difficult, in my opinion, to exceed the quality of this village," says Armand Calvo, the village's director, who may be biased but has reason to sound the facility's praises.
This is the first time athletes have had their own beach and marina practically right outside their doors. The setting enhances an already special environment.
"Life in the village is a remarkable moment in time," says Anita de Frantz, who rowed for the United States at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and managed one of two athlete villages at the '84 Los Angeles Games. "The village brings together 10,000 people who have been successful, who have pride and respect for one another, no matter what size, shape, color, religion, or sex."
Ms. de Frantz renews friendships she made with other Olympic athletes when she travels abroad as the United States representative to the International Olympic Committee.
Athletic villages have not always been part of the Olympics. The first was created at Los Angeles in 1932, a complex of 550 cottages for men only. The female athletes stayed at the Chapman Park Hotel.
Before that, athletes all lodged in hotels, mostly modest ones, but some on the luxurious side. The village concept not only brought the athletes together in one place, it equalized conditions.
TO avoid distractions, marquee athletes have been known to seek quieter quarters outside the village, and this time much media attention has been focused on the US men's basketball team, which is holing up at the newly opened 105-room Ambassador Hotel. The players have denied being prima donnas and say living off the premises is partly a matter of security. They were mobbed by autograph-seeking athletes during their initial visit.
Athlete safety, sadly, became a paramount concern after 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Security has been tight ever since, most visibly at the limited-access gates, but has been handled here and elsewhere so as not to destroy the festive ambience.
Before the Olympics began, flag-raising ceremonies saluted the arrival of various teams, and throughout the 16 days of the Games, all manner of live entertainment is booked, from an outdoor concert by a musical troupe called Gumbo Ya-Ya (performing Japanese, Cajun, and Catalan music) to a disco appearance by Big Mama Montse, Spain's popular blues singer.
Boredom is a virtual unknown in this self-contained athletic city, which has introduced a compact disc and video library run by local university students. There's also a bowling alley, cinemas, a 3,500-seat dining hall, a huge video-game room, an ecumenical religious center, and 42.5 acres of new beaches, parks, and promenades.
The 10,000 athletes here mix across national lines, says British runner Jill Hunter, but mostly within the same sport and events. "We went into the canteen the other night and there were kids with British uniforms on and we had no idea who they were. It was a bit of a shame."
Rob Stull, a US modern pentathlon competitor and an Olympic veteran, calls the village here "wonderful. It appears, so far - maybe as the result of the [Berlin] Wall coming down - that everyone is a lot friendlier."
Considering that the village is always a pretty chummy place, the world's political thaw is perhaps stimulating more global sports warming than ever.