By nature, Olympic athletes are dedicated, unwavering, and beyond laser-focused. But even gold medalists need a little downtime. And that’s what the Olympic Village is for.
Right now, more than 2,900 competitors from 90 nations are moving into Pyeongchang’s athlete playground, hoping to fit in a little bit of fun when they’re not, you know, making history. So we couldn’t help but wonder: what kind of action really goes on inside the Village itself?
“The Olympic Village is like its own city,” says Danielle Scott, a five-time Olympic indoor volleyball player and two-time silver medalist. “Of my five appearances, we mostly stayed in condo-style apartments with the exception of the 2004 games in Sydney, where we stayed in a subdivision of homes with two athletes to a bedroom.”
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Scott says that depending on the size of a country's delegation, large teams, like USA, might take up an entire city block, while smaller countries sometimes have to share space with other competitors. Still, it’s always clear who is staying where. “You can tell by the flags hanging from the windows,” she says.
Outside of the individual living spaces, teams have virtually everything at their disposal, from a fitness center and dining hall, to convenience stores, flower shops, and even a hair salon and spa where they can grab a quick, stress-relieving massage.
There’s also usually a dance hall, which proves to be one of the most popular spots for teams to mix and mingle. “It was always a big party at the dance hall, mostly on the last night,” says Scott. And that athlete hookup culture that’s so widely reported? “What happens in the village, stays in the village,” she says. “That rumor may have some validity.”
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Just last week, CNN reported that the organizers of this year’s South Korea games will stock the Olympic Village with more than 110,000 condoms. If you do the math, that works out to about 37 condoms per athlete—a generous supply for a two-week span of time.
Domenico Ciarallo, who attended the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as a guest of the Canadian Women’s Hockey Team, says that when sporting events are over for the day, it’s customary for athletes to swing by the Olympic houses of other countries to get to know each other. “The Canadian Olympic House was the center of the universe for us, but after 11 p.m., it was all about the Swiss Olympic House,” he says. “They had a party until 2 a.m. every night with great music, food, drinks, and lots of medalists.”
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But not everyone is looking for a fling. Gold medalist figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi met her husband, Bret Hadican, at the 1992 Winter Games. “He was on the U.S. Olympic hockey team, and Nancy Kerrigan and I decided to walk around and meet some of the other athletes,” says Yamaguchi. “She already knew some of the hockey team, so we all ended up chatting and taking pictures. It actually wasn’t until a few years later, though, that I ran into him again at an event in Vancouver and we hit it off. I had to go back to my Olympic photo album and say, 'Oh, yeah, there we are!'"
When she wasn’t chatting up other athletes, Yamaguchi says she was in the dining hall, one of the other hot spots in the Village. “I made so many memories there,” she says. “It was amazing to go into the dining hall and see every athlete you’ve ever looked up to just sitting around and hanging out. I’d be like, ‘Oh, there’s Dan Jensen! And there’s Bonnie Blair!'"
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The only thing that wasn’t so great about the dining experience? The food itself. At least in the ’90s. “Honestly? The food was terrible,” says Yamaguchi. “All of the food was shipped in, and we basically lived off soggy noodles, green beans, and other vegetables. That was my one complaint!”
Thankfully, the menu seems to have improved over the last few decades. At the 2014 Sochi games, Ciarallo says that the food was one of the best parts of his time in the Village. “Breakfast, lunch, and dinner was sent in from Canada,” he recalls. “Alberta beef, salmon from the Pacific, and other Canadian specialties were served. We were so spoiled!”
The other major bonus about life in the village? You never know who you might run into. And it’s not just famous athletes. “In the USA house, you never know what Olympic legends might pop in,” says Scott. “For my very first games in 1996 in Atlanta, every evening there was some sort of entertainment. I met everyone from Tracy Chapman to George Clinton to Montell Jordan.”
Ciarallo had a surprise sighting in Sochi too, when Russian President Vladimir Putin stopped by the Canadian House. “I took a photo with him surrounded by KGB bodyguards,” he recalls. #OnlyInTheOlympicsVillage.