At the entrance, I feel like I'm going through airport security: multiple checkpoints, bomb-sniffing dogs, and little plastic gray trays in which you unload virtually everything except your undergarments.
Then I see Virpi Kuitunen of Finland, one of the best cross-country skiers in the world, just three feet away. A group of chiseled athletes from the Czech team and coaches from Slovenia. And a contingent of smartly dressed folks with ‘Bulgaria" written in big red letters on their back.
This is the Whistler Olympic athletes’ village in all its glory. Of course it also has mundane features: athletes clicking away inside computer labs, using the business center's bank and courier service, or shopping for aboriginal gifts – reflecting the organizing committee’s inclusive emphasis on Canada’s native peoples.
Then there's a surprisingly popular Vancouver 2010 souvenir store: Despite the fact that most athletes just got decked out in massive amounts of Olympic gear, a steady stream of them were coming in to check out Vancouver 2010 red mittens, umbrellas, key chains, T-shirts, and more. If they need a break from consumerism, they can take a short walk down to the game room, where a few Bosnia-Herzegovina athletes are checking out the arcade-style games.
A state-of-the-art weight room is located near the end of the main drag, where a pack of Swedes is sweating it out on stationary bikes, while two tough Russian ladies are bench-pressing, with one keeping close track of her workout in a little journal. Over on the treadmills, one girl is running – I’m guessing 6-minute miles or faster. Somehow it seemed weird to see Winter Olympians in shorts. But I guess one can only wear lycra tights so much of the time.
Where's the McDonald's?
But on a drizzly afternoon, the village's most happening place was the dining hall. McDonald's was one of the most popular stations – drawing far more athletes than the ethnic-themed stations, including Italian, Asian, and French.
Finishing a late lunch with his grizzled colleagues, Austrian alpine skiing coach Jürgen Kreichbaum said he was enjoying meeting people from other teams.
“Here it’s very busy all the time and you see a lot of people – there are a lot of sportsmen and sportswomen here,” said Mr. Kreichbaum, who – like all of the residents interviewed – was content with the village overall, except for the absence of TV and Internet in his room.
Sadao Mamose, team captain for Japan’s luge team, was enjoying socializing with members of his own country's biathlon team, commenting that the barriers between the different disciplines fall while they're all at the Olympic Games. “Here, we are Team Japan.”
Vincent Descombes Sevoie says that while his French ski jumping team is very friendly with the Japanese team, it can be harder to talk to the dominant Austrians.
But for the most part, Mr. Sevoie and his teammates are able to put competitive juices aside in the village. “It’s really a war on the jumping hill, but on the other side [i.e. non-competition] everyone is quite friendly,” he says.
A village that will become affordable housing
As the Olympics has grown with myriad events and athletes, it's essentially split into two Games with two distinct athlete's villages. Whistler is some 70 miles from the main athlete's village in Vancouver, though most of the residents here seem content with their private nook in the mountains.
“In Turin, it was very different because the Olympic village in Cesana was very bad,” says Andrea Morassi, an Italian ski jumper who stopped to chat on his way out of the dining room. “But this is really nice. Everyone is very helpful, and I feel this.”
Designed to make the Olympians’ experience as welcoming and comfortable as possible, Whistler's village compound reflects Canada's emphasis on sustainability. Permanent, earth-toned apartment buildings that blend with the moss-covered boulders and evergreen trees will become affordable housing after the Games, and the village's temporary assortment of white tent-like structures will be transplanted to other areas of British Columbia to also serve as affordable living.
But for now, it all serves as home to the world’s best athletes in winter sports – and their not insignificant coaches, trainers, cooks, maids, and others who enable them to focus on one thing: faster, higher, stronger.
Follow Christa on Twitter as she tweets live from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.