From Wii to free McDonald's food, the Olympic athletes are enjoying their comfortable home-away-from-home in Whistler for the next few weeks.
WHISTLER, B.C. — Ales Razym made the Czech Olympic team as a cross-country ski racer, but right now he’s ski jumping.
He’s playing a Wii video game in the lounge at the Olympic Athletes Village in Whistler that, for the next three weeks or so, will be the home-away-from-home for nearly 3,000 athletes and team officials.
Razym, 23, is having a fine time playing games before the Games. But he, like most others here, is clear about the most important building on a complex so big it will become an instant residential neighborhood when the Olympics are over.
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“I know only the way to the lunch tent,” he said. “I know three ways to get there.”
Whistler’s Olympic Village is a notable departure from the last few Winter Games, where competitors were — because of their competition venues — scattered over various mountain hamlets and valleys, often residing in private homes or smaller athlete villages.
One of the factors that helped Vancouver/Whistler land the 2010 Games was an Olympics based in two compact hubs. Whistler’s Athletes Village is less than 20 minutes from all Whistler competition venues.
And proximity makes for a better village atmosphere.
“You get to see the other countries in other sports,” said biathlete Jeremy Teela, in his third Olympics.
Not all Olympians will live here. The U.S. men’s and women’s alpine team, for one, is staying in private condos near the racecourses on Whistler Mountain.
Wii isn’t the only favorite pastime at the village. Most resident athletes can’t resist the McDonald’s serving free food — just order a Big Mac and you get a receipt showing $0.00 — along with lattes, smoothies and cappuccinos.
Teela’s sharing a room with another veteran biathlete, Jay Hakkinen. They’ve been roommates on the international circuit for 14 years.
“The hard part is keeping your routine, even if you’re at the Olympics,” he said, standing outside the modern-looking residential building that is housing U.S. and Australia athletes in nordic sports during the Games.
Whistler’s Olympic Village is one of two athletes’ villages at the 2010 Games. The other is in downtown Vancouver, a stunning waterfront site. It’s considered one of the jewels of these Games — in more ways than one.
Price tag for Vancouver’s Olympic Village: $1 billion.
Whistler’s? A relative bargain at $32 million. Plans are for both to be modern sustainable communities after the Games, with environmentally designed buildings and features.
Whistler’s village, in the scenic Cheakamus Valley, is built adjacent to a former landfill. The Olympic Village’s primary heat source is heat recovered from its wastewater treatment system.
Whistler’s village will actually house more Olympic athletes, about 2,850 to Vancouver’s 2,730.
Many Olympians were arriving Wednesday, getting their bearings as they lugged big duffel bags to new rooms in striking buildings.
The most popular activity is going out with teammates for a run around the sprawling complex that features six permanent buildings and lots of temporary structures — like the massive dining tent.
Female U.S. biathletes Lanny Barnes and Sarah Studebaker share a Spartan room. The bathroom is across the hall. Several pairs of ski boots are clustered outside each door in the hallway.
“It gives us more space,” said Barnes, sitting on a chair — one of the few pieces of furniture in the dormlike room, which features two twin beds, an armoir, a nightstand and a TV. “We move them (the boots) for more space and so we don’t trip on them.
“It’s cozy. But we’re used to these kinds of accommodations.”
After the Games, the village will convert to a residential neighborhood, with mixed-income housing and lots of recreational flair: a 19,500-square-foot high-performance center, including a 4,000-square-foot gym and a gymnastics hall. It will also have a four-story athletes lodge and 20 townhouse units.
“It’s great. It’s a good village,” said Teela, who was born in Okanogan County’s Tonasket and now lives in Utah. “It will be a really good area to live.”