When people hear I’m an Olympian, one of the first questions they ask is:
What’s it like inside the Olympic Village?
The village is a little known but very hyped part of the Games, so there’s a sort of spectator fascination with it. Is it one giant party? Do you see famous people? Is there really a free, all-you-can-eat McDonalds?
I didn’t know what to expect going into the 2012 London Olympic Games, but the village was a special place to be. 10,500 athletes across all countries and sports competed at those Olympics, and the village is where those athletes eat, sleep, and hang out outside of training and racing. Everyone there is at the absolute top of their field. It’s inspiring.
Let’s take a trip inside the Olympic village to see what it’s all about.
Not every athlete stays inside the Olympic village
Did you know there are multiple satellite villages outside of the main Olympic village? That’s because not every competition venue is in the Olympic Park. In London, for example, the rowing course was 50 miles outside the city. To make the commute to and from the course easier, we stayed in a satellite village closer to the lake. It was set up at a local university, so we had our own dorms and dining hall.
Once the rowing competition was over, we moved to the main village with the rest of the athletes.
While the vast majority of athletes stay in the villages, it’s not required. Some higher profile sports, like USA Swimming, had their own accommodations outside of the main village, either for increased security, comfort, or both.
How the village is set up
The village is made up of high rise buildings, and the Olympic organizing committee groups rooms together based on country. Countries with large teams like the US and Great Britain take up entire buildings, while countries with smaller representation, like Palestine or Colombia, only take up a few rooms.
Since all the Team USA athletes are in the same building, you see each other in the halls, common areas, elevators, and hanging out out front of the building. While some team members ask for pictures with the more famous athletes they see around, I felt like the village was a place I’d want to be left alone if I were them! I saw a handful of famous athletes, and remember riding the elevator with US hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones.
Alright, let’s settle this one. YES, there’s a free, all-you-can-eat McDonald’s inside the Olympic village. At the London Olympics, it was built right into the dining hall. You walk up to the front and can order as much as you want for free, every time.
10 of each thing on the menu? You got it.
We definitely had fun ordering there, but only after racing was over. As an athlete who weighed in before each race, I was on a strict eating schedule during competition. Big Macs didn’t exactly fit into my eating regimen!
The Dining Hall
All the food at the dining hall was free and unlimited, and it was open 24/7. The dining hall covered the area of two football fields. It was HUGE. All athletes eat together, regardless of country or sport.
The food was broken out into different regions, like Latin American, Mediterranean, African, Caribbean, Indian and Asian, and the Best of Britain section. Olympians have varying dietary needs, and the dining hall did a great job of covering all possible options.
There was something special about sitting next to athletes from Korea, Zimbabwe, or France, knowing we’re coming from entirely different backgrounds but all landed in the same place. We’d all trained unbelievably hard to be sitting in that dining hall. It was a moment to soak in, for sure.
One thing is true: once competition is over, all athletes want to do is party.
Getting to the end of your Olympic competition means reaching the finish line of a grueling four years (or 8, or 12, or...20) of laser-focused training, eating, hydration, sleep, and mental game. When you’re training at that level, every decision you make is decided by how your training is impacted. The result? Little to no social life and minimal opportunities to let loose and have a good time.
So when the competition ends, athletes are suddenly free. We can stay up until 3 am, eat whatever we want, and drink to our heart’s content without having to worry about tomorrow’s workouts.
But here’s the thing: not all sports start competition on Day 1 and end on Day 17. Some sports are done after the first 3 days, while others don’t start until the last few days of competition.
Athletes who are finished competing are generally very respectful of those still competing, though. Almost no athletes party inside the Olympic village (not that alcohol is even allowed in it to begin with), although there are free condoms at every reception desk.
About 5 days after we’d finished competing, we could count on two hands how many cumulative hours we’d slept that week. It averaged about 2-3 hours a night. We’d get back to the village at 3 or 4 am and wake up early to cheer on Team USA athletes at other events. All you want to do is experience the Olympics to its fullest and not miss a moment!
The Olympic Village has been the target for terrorist events in the past, so the village takes security seriously.
Every time we entered the village, we went through airport style security: put your bags through an X-ray, get your Olympic ID barcode scanned, walk through the metal detector, and get a pat down if necessary.
A limited number of family members could come inside the Olympic village for a visit, but they had to submit their passport information a handful of days before their visit so the organizing committee could do background checks. They then had to leave their passports at the front gate while touring the village.
All in all, the Olympic village isn’t the crazy party scene that NBC hypes it up to be, but it’s definitely a fun and memorable place to be. I’ve definitely never been surrounded by that many fit people in my life, and likely never will again!
Want to see more blog posts about my Olympic journey? Send me a note to let me know. I love hearing from you!