Inside the Village: Where the Olympians live in Vancouver

As part of a select group of international media, Yahoo! Sports had the opportunity to explore the Olympic Village in Vancouver without many restrictions. Here's part one of our series, focusing on the college-dorm-like athletes' accommodations.

The Italian building is colorful. The Russian building is appropriately foreboding. The U.S. building overlooks the courtyard, where competitors from many nations mingle. Canada's two buildings have, perhaps, the best views of Vancouver's picturesque sights. The Aussies' flags are eclipsed by a giant banner depicting a boxing kangaroo.

The Olympic Village in Vancouver houses an estimated 2,730 athletes, coaches, officials and other members of national delegations. It is a city unto itself, with food, entertainment, medical services and other amenities. But the majority of the village is dedicated to housing.

In general, the accommodations are a series of simple, no-frills rooms — small beds in small bedrooms, and a kitchen that doesn't have an oven or stove, lest a competition-weary athlete leave the gas on after a late-night snack (that's why there's a 24-hour McDonald's on site). The process of determining who lives where in the village is a meticulous and, at times, very political one.

Only national officials, coaches, trainers, technicians and athletes stay in the village; family members aren't allowed to room there, unless they are part of a delegation. There is a "host program" in Vancouver that allows athletes to stay with "citizens of Vancouver" as well.

There are 250 non-market units that are owned and maintained by the city, and roughly 850 retail units that will be on the market after the Olympics.

The dorm-style rooms that were on display to the press in the Olympic Village this week aren't necessarily indicative of all the housing — some rooms are more luxurious than others, but with a smaller square footage. Occupancy is between two and six people, but it averages out to about four per apartment.

Inside the entrance to each suite, there's a sitting area, which evidently is a significant advancement in athlete housing, according to Dan Merkley, manager of village operations and the resident know-it-all on Olympic residences (this is his fifth Olympics).

How is the housing decided? It's a process that begins a year in advance, according to Merkley. There's a village staff whose job it is to allocate the different spaces in the village to the teams.

"They consider the size of the teams, where they would like to stay, certain criteria that's unique to their teams. We drop in the big ones first, because they're going to anchor the village," he said. "It's really only the very largest teams that are aware of their allotment before their arrival. The medium-sized and smaller teams learn when they arrive."

The blocks of rooms are turned over to the respective National Olympic Committees, who then run the buildings like their own hotels. "If there are any preferences or complaints, we leave that to them," said Merkley.

The kitchen might have you flashing back to your first apartment, minus the empty pizza boxes and stacks of unpaid bills. That gap on the right is where the stove/oven would have been.

Other than the refreshing Official Water of the 2010 Olympics on the end tables, the bedrooms are quite bare. There were two of them in the apartment we surveyed: a double and a single. No word if the Olympic committees determine who sleeps alone or if the athletes resort to the time-honored tradition of calling "dibs."

Here's a view from the bedroom balcony, which is slender but just big enough for an athlete to stand on in order to taunt the delegation across the way, should the need arise.

The bathroom is, as expected, no palace.

Interesting that over by the commode there's this sign regarding the water and whether or not an athlete should pour a glass of water from the toilet.

This is likely because the Olympic Village is a "green" village, with trees and vegetation located on the roof. Nejat Sarp, VP of services and villages for Vancouver 2010, said the green roof "captures the [rain] water, and it's used for watering vegetation and flushing the toilets."

But green roof or no green roof: Better to just avoid drinking from the toilet.

As we said before, there are some politics in this process. Some teams lobby for exclusive access to elevators or staircases. The village organizers also have to be cognizant of lingering issues that go beyond athletic competition between nations.

"As you can imagine, there are certain cultural or political incapabilities between teams. There's not a lot of that, but it's something we consider," said Merkley. "In some cases, countries actually share resources."

We spoke with Nejat Sarp about the politics, the pressures and, yes, the parties in the village during the Games:

Vancouver 2010's Nejat Sarp on the Olympic Village @ Yahoo! Video

Coming up next: Where the athletes eat, and where the athletes relax.

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