Now, before I start here I would like to say that this is from my experience of going to the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. Each Olympics varies from one to another so this may be a bit different to other athletes you speak to. Nevertheless these are some things that surprised when I got to Rio!
Security at the Olympics is extremely extremely high. All 10 500 of the worlds best athletes are in one place with volunteers, coaches, and dignitaries walking around so it is definitely not an easy place to get into. Every time you go into the Olympic Village and all Olympic venues you need to go through airport-like security to be allowed in coupled with having your own Olympic accreditation. In Rio, even to get near the village by car you had to be in an Olympic accredited vehicle.
A lot of athletes don’t get to walk into the Opening Ceremony with their team! The opening ceremony is an exhausting (yet magical) ordeal where countries need to line up to take buses (or walk) to the venue hours before and then wait around in alphabetical order to walk in. Some countries nearing the end of the alphabet can be waiting up to 2 hours. Once you get in the stadium there are no seats, no toilets and no food – which, for elite athletes, is not a good combination. In Rio we needed to be ready to line up to take up bus around 5pm, walking in around 9pm and didn’t get back to the village until 3am! If you’re an athlete that competes near the beginning of the games you can’t risk that level of exhaustion with your competition coming up. So most of those people you see walking in with countries actually are staff, coaches, physios, referees and a few athletes.
Most of the time at the Games, countries get assigned apartment buildings for all their athletes to stay in. But quite often a whole country doesn’t fill up an entire apartment building so they have to share with neighbouring countries. So, we stayed in an 18 story building with level 1-12 and 18 belonging to Australia, and levels 13-17 belonging to many neighbouring Polynesian islands. So when we would take the lift we would quite often bump into Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa etc.
Especially at the Summer Olympics, there are so many events at the same time at various locations so it can be difficult for athletes to go support their country in their free time. Therefore many countries have a hub somewhere in their building where they have 2-5 TVs showing multiple events at the same time where we can cheer on each other from the comfort of our building! In our Hub we even had the Channel 7 broadcasting of the Olympics so we got to hear our familiar Aussie announcers.
Yes, you hear me right, unlimited free McDonalds 24 hours a day for the entire Olympics. It seems odd coupling the nutritional value of Maccas with Olympians, but seeing that they are a major Olympic sponsor they have a McDonald’s in the village (that looks like a regular Maccas) but there’s zero monetary transaction for your food! Sadly to say, I never got a chance to get any free McDonald’s since every time I tried to get some the line was over an hour-long! Needless to say, it’s definitely popular in the village.
Of course, just like everything else, the food is completely free in the Village. Each Games is different, but in Rio the food was divided into Brazilian, Asian, Halal, Pizza and Pasta, a Salad Bar, a dessert section and unlimited water, coke, Gatorade etc. The food in Rio was definitely not a highlight but there was enough option that you could definitely find something you liked – 24 hours a day. We even could get açai bowls ;-)
Yup, you thought right – condoms. Amongst all the shenanigans that go on the Olympic Committee makes sure everyone is protected by supplying unlimited amounts of condoms. Just in case you need one last minute, you can always grab one from the Condom Gum Ball machine on the way out from the Food Hall.
Each day countries get allocated tickets to different events on the day and they offer them to the athletes that may be finished or have a day off from training. But you have to be quick! Because usually, the good ones go fast!
As a viewer, all you see is the final product broadcasted across your screens but most of the time at the Games athletes are training for their event, which can happen in their venue when its not being used or in an alternate venue nearby. For synchro, we were in a stadium with a 50m pool and a dive pool (yes the infamous green pool) but we also had another 50m, and water polo pool right outside. We were training in either pool every day in the lead up to the games and got to practice in the competition pool multiple times before our actual days of our event. So by the time D-Day came for us we felt really comfortable with our surroundings.
I hope you guys enjoyed that! I would love to share some more random facts if you are ever interested. I know before I went to the Olympics I had so many questions about all the things that go on behind the scenes!