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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Village People Do Almost Anything in City Within a City

Athletes: The world gets a taste of life in a giant mall, and it's the most secure place around.

August 01, 1996|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — A Hungarian track athlete sits in a salon chair, an Olympic torch half shaved into his hair.

A Russian distance runner needs seven pins to pick up a 10th-frame spare to break 60 in a game of bowling. Nyet! Gutter ball.

A Canadian rower signs on to the Internet to correspond with his friends back in Nova Scotia--and check on what the local sportswriters are saying about his performance.

A judoist from the Czech Republic frets over the selection of Olympic pins in a makeshift department store. "There are so many," he says, holding his head with one hand. "How do I choose?"

Such are some of the scenes Wednesday on a typical afternoon in the Olympic village, home to about 15,000 athletes and delegation officials during these Olympic Games.

These clips are rated G. But then this is only the afternoon.

At night, insiders say, some of the fun might push an R rating.

Earlier this week, organizers arranged a T-shirt giveaway, encouraging athletes to sign each other's shirts as keepsakes.

The shirts quickly ran out, but the signing didn't stop. Athletes simply penned on various body parts. So go international relations in the village.

All in good fun, organizers say.

"Our competition is the city," said Willie Banks, the director of athlete services for the Olympic village. "We want to make them feel like they can stay right here and not miss out on anything. The only way we can do that is to provide them with entertainment that rivals what they can find anywhere else."

Banks speaks from experience. As an Olympic triple jumper, he kept a report card:

--Los Angeles: Nice facilities, but village was split in two segments at opposite ends of the city.

--Seoul: Nothing to do except go into the city and risk finding trouble.

--Barcelona: Entertainment too close to living quarters for privacy and solitude; cheap video games; no air conditioning.

And Atlanta?

"We have it all," Banks said. "We have more things to do than we have athletes to do them."

An exaggeration, yes. But not by much.

The village, which encompasses more than 80% of Georgia Tech's 330 acres, includes recreation and entertainment areas, a marketplace, information centers, a museum, houses of worship, a medical center and the "Surf Shak," where athletes can send and receive E-mail, surf the Internet, or play computer games.

Villagers have access to tennis courts, pool tables, a 12-lane bowling alley, a swimming pool, arcade, 3,000-seat cinema, laser tag, a health club, a video-viewing facility and a music-listening center with a selection of 900 compact discs and 2,000 records.

There are a dance club, concerts and street performers.

Hootie and the Blowfish, Run DMC and Ziggy Marley are among the acts to have already performed in concert. LL Cool Jay appears Friday.

The dance club--which has a foam pit and a moonwalk area--is open until 1 a.m.

And they say New York is the city that doesn't sleep.

"I don't know why anyone would leave here except to see what is in the city," said Edward Dosa-Wea Neufville, a sprinter from Liberia. "You can do anything here, and most of it is free."

Most of the funky hairdos being worn by Olympic competitors--Dennis Rodman has nothing on this crowd--have been created in the village salon.

Multicolored Olympic rings are the current hip clip and the salon has made a stencil to keep up with demand. Neon braids also are in fashion.

Hairstylists have used paint, blueberry Kool-Aid and permanent markers to reach suitable hues on either hair or scalp.

In the village medical clinic, technicians rate athletes' vision and coordination skills.

Of the more than 700 people who have taken a reaction test, the best score yet was turned in by. . . .

A New Zealand swimming coach.

Both the billiard hall and bowling alley are routinely packed with athletes of all skill levels. "They don't have team shirts yet, but we're waiting for that," cracked an ACOG spokesman.

At a telephone sub-center, medal winners who bring in their hardware get a free five-minute long-distance call to mom.

Over in the "Surf Shak," athletes are receiving 6,000-7,000 messages a day. The most popular targets: gymnast Kerri Strug and swimmers Janet Evans and Amanda Beard, all of the United States. The hottest international address: that of swimmer Michelle Smith of Ireland.

"It would take Strug an entire day to go through all her messages," said John Crowe, a supervisor in the computer station.

Kathy Tough, a member of Canada's volleyball team, said she enjoyed a full body wrap at the health club, "with dim lights, candles and everything." In a day or two she is signed up for her first facial.

"I'm finished competing, so I'm on my own time," she said. "I might as well take advantage of what's here."

Tough has ventured to downtown Atlanta twice to scout around, but found she is more comfortable in the village.

"You can stay here and feel safe, and that's a big deal now after the bombing," she said. "Nobody can get in here. Even within the village, you're checked by security and more security."

The village is surrounded by 11.5 miles of security fencing and officers from the State Olympic Law Enforcement Command are on patrol every 500 feet.

The only complaint: The village is too big.

"The dining hall is a 15-minute tram ride," Ball said. "You can't walk to anything. But that's so minor. We definitely can live with that."

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