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A Village in name, if not reality

July 15, 2012

LONDON: The first wave of athletes arrive in the Olympic Village on Monday they will find their new home from home bears little resemblance to anything found in the English countryside.

In terms of physical size, it may meet the strict dictionary definition of a settlement larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town.

The sort of village familiar through the ages of literary fiction – ducks on the pond, cricket on the green, bell ringers in the churchyard and locals enjoying a lazy pint outside the pub on a summer’s afternoon – it is most definitely not.

There is a ‘pub’, but it serves no alcohol. The landscaped green is surrounded by modern apartment blocks and for church read multi-faith centre.

There are green spaces, wetland pools and wildflowers but there are no farms or fields beyond the wire perimeter fence, only the gritty reality of one of the poorest parts of east London. The city centre is just seven minutes away by train.

None of this will matter to the world’s leading athletes, for whom the main priorities will be a good night’s sleep, food on demand and reliable transport to venues within easy reach.

On those three counts, and more when the recreational facilities are considered, the Village ticks all the boxes even if the real world stops at the airport-style security checkpoints.

“This knocks Club Med into a cocked hat,” declared London mayor Boris Johnson in typically boisterous and flag-waving fashion on a recent visit.

The Village ‘shops’, including a hairdresser and florist, have as a backdrop the giant mass of the nearby Westfield shopping complex – Europe’s largest urban mall – and the adjacent Olympic Park with its new stadium and showcase venues.

You can forget the Ploughman’s Lunch. The main ‘dining facility’ here is big enough to cater for most villages at one sitting and serve them a range of cooking from every corner of the world.

The biggest canteen in Britain, it is the largest facility of its kind in the world outside of the military arena.

“You could fit 880 double decker buses in here,” Janet Mathews – the head of catering, cleaning and waste who previously worked for the British Army in Germany - told reporters on a recent visit.

“So you can seat 5,000 people and through Games times we will be operating 24/7. On our busiest day, we will feed 65,000 people and over the time of the Games we will serve 1.2 million meals.”

Victory park

Games organizers, ever ready with the statistics, say they expect to serve 1,300 different types of dishes during the Olympics.

They will get through 25,000 loaves of bread, 232 metric tons of potatoes, 75,000 liters of milk and more than 330 metric tons of fruit and vegetables.

The menus have been developed with nutritionists and dieticians from the various sports and then been validated and checked off by the International Olympic Committee.

At full capacity, the Village will house up to 16,000 athletes and officials from 203 countries plus a workforce of up to 7,500. There will be as many as 3,500 visitors a day.

The Village in Stratford, billed as the most compact in recent Games history, cost about 1.1 billion pounds ($1.71 billion) of public funds to build and is divided into ‘Countryside’, ‘Seaside’ and ‘Heritage’ zones.

There is a ‘Victory Park’, a ‘Celebration Avenue’ and a ‘Cheering Lane’. Sculptures, including an ‘Olympic Spirit’, are dotted around.

Once the athletes take residence, in 2,818 apartments spread over 11 blocks in distinct architectural styles, the Village will come alive with flags hung from balconies in bursts of national pride.

The beds, extendable to cater for the tallest athlete, have been tried and tested and the apartments kitted out from a lengthy shopping list that includes 170,000 coat hangers and 5,000 toilet brushes.

The light and functional rooms have blackout curtains, the beds covered with duvets carrying the words ‘Excellence, friendship and respect.”

Some 150,000 condoms will also be distributed.

What Miss Marple, Agatha Christie’s fictional elderly spinster in the idyllic English village of St Mary Mead, would make of it all is anyone’s guess.

-Reuters


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