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Beijing's Olympic Village Sets A High Bar


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From the Chicago Tribune:

Beijing's Olympic Village Sets a High Bar

By Kathy Bergen | Tribune staff reporter

1:36 PM CDT, August 18, 2008

BEIJING - Viewed through the eyes of a first-time Olympics visitor, the athletes' village built for these Summer Games appears to be nothing special, particularly in contrast to the eye-popping sports venues.

A massive condo complex with identical six-story blocks of apartments, it is built of taupe brick with white concrete trim.

But within these seemingly pedestrian confines are some satisfied athletes and coaches who say China mostly got it right, from the homelike quality of the condos to pretty decent food offerings to a shuttle bus system that runs very well after some initial kinks were worked out.

This critique was gleaned from interviews with a handful of athletes and coaches at the village on a cool, overcast afternoon. Hailing from Australia, Croatia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Tunisia and the U.S., they offered perspectives that can serve as something of a checklist for Chicago as it fine-tunes the village component of its bid to host the 2016 Summer Games.

Chicago's bid calls for building a privately developed $1.1 billion village near McCormick Place, with units converted to private housing, both market rate and affordable, after the Games.

"From what we're hearing, [the Beijing village] is the best village since forever," said Luka Milanovic, a coach for Croatia's basketball team. "It's less of a dormitory than usual."

The units "were built as luxury apartments, and they're all sold," noted Josiah Ng, a track cyclist from Malaysia. In Athens 2004, "the apartments were to be used as public housing. That's the difference."

Windows are large, balconies are small, and the development would fit right in along any suburban corridor, were it not for the national flags hanging from the balconies.

And the so-called "international zone," where athletes can gather to sip coffee, run an errand, have a meal or chat on the Internet, is a collection of very basic temporary structures built of off-white siding. There's a hint of army base about it.

Still, Ng liked a lot of the small touches, from rain showerheads and nice tiling in the bathroom to extension mechanisms on each bed, allowing them to be made longer for tall athletes.

Good soundproofing made for peaceful sleeping, noted race walkers Luke Adams of Australia and Hatem Ghoula of Tunisia, who were visiting with Adams' parents at a village café on Sunday afternoon.

And the apartments have televisions with live feeds from every event, which Adams liked as well. In contrast, Ghoula lived in a small room in temporary quarters, with no air conditioning or TV, while competing at Sydney 2000. "They were terrible," he said.

In Beijing, a good living situation could be made better if there were greater access to the Internet, Adams said. There's no wireless access in his unit, he said, adding there are waits to get on computers at some Internet lounges.

But others were pleased with the availability of Internet access, including six lounges by provided Lenovo, the computer sponsor for the Games.

"Of course I miss my boyfriend, and we each keep in touch because there are Internet cafes everywhere," said Karen Foo Kune, a badminton player from Mauritius.

If grades were given on the food offerings, they would probably get a solid 'B' for the multi-ethnic variety. But a number of folks said the offerings should change more frequently and the tastiness quotient could be a little better.

At the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, "they had a chef and a grill, and they'd grill things like seafood, giant prawns," said Kune. "They had a beef Caesar salad that many of my friends ate every day. The food was incredible."

Others bring a very different perspective. "Because of McDonald's, we are very happy," said Dan Campbell, head coach for USA Boxing. "Our young athletes from the U.S. live off of McDonald's."

The Oak Brook-based company, a global sponsor of the Games, provides free meals for athletes. Coaches and athletes said travel times from the village to their competition venues were acceptable, generally less than 30 minutes, helped along by dedicated Olympics lanes. And, they say, the shuttle bus system is working well now.

In the early days, during training, "some drivers got lost," said Kune. Some were brought in from other areas and were not familiar with Beijing, she said. This was an issue in Atlanta 1996 as well.

"Knowing Chicago, transportation is going to be critical," said Campbell, of USA Boxing. "In a large city like Chicago, that will be the hardest part."

And Adams' parents, Sue and Brian, suggest bid cities consider creating special transport lanes for ticket-holders, too, not just athletes, media and Olympics officials. "There's so much traffic, it's a bloody nightmare," said Sue Adams, his mom.

In their critiques, the athletes liked the first-rate gym facilities and outdoor paths for training, and the greenery around the village. Much of it looked very newly planted and a bit frail, but from veteran Olympians' perspective, it was lush.

"Athens was a joke in comparison," said Ng. "It was just dirt on the road that had not been swept up yet." He was referring to the fact that Athens barely finished construction in time for the Games.

One last word to the bid cities, which also include Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro as they prepare plans for villages, the athletes' home base: "Do not make it too far from other locations in the city," said Tomislav Mijatovic, another coach for the Croatian basketball team.

"No matter how great the village is," he said, "athletes want the opportunity to see something, to get out of the village. They don't want a suburban location."


Beijing's Olympic Village Sets a High Bar

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Beijing certainly set the bar quite high, much higher than the dissapointments in Athens and Torino.......but you haven't seen anything unless you've seen Vancouver's:










Beautiful interior furnishings AND a great view of downtown and the mountains, as it's right across the inlet.

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