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Ship of Dream Teams

Some U.S. athletes have a very different view of the Games from the QM2

August 26, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — When Andy Roddick competes, tennis tournament directors offer him chauffeured limos and free shopping trips, suites at the finest hotels, massages, bonbons, comped haircuts.

Yet when the world's No. 2 player came to the Olympics -- though he could afford to stay in the Grand Bretagne, Athens' finest hotel, or spring for a room on the Queen Mary 2, where the NBA stars relax -- Roddick chose to bunk in the Olympic village.

"I wouldn't want to miss that experience," Roddick said. "I can stay in nice hotels any time."

In doing so, he skipped a chance to live on what is billed as the world's longest, widest, tallest luxury cruise ship, docked in Piraeus Harbor on the Mediterranean, where the water is blue and the view of distant islands is hypnotic. The ship has five pools, a double-deck sauna and spa and 14 decks filled with sports courts and video arcades. The private staterooms have blond-wood paneling and plush carpeting.

The Olympic men's basketball team isn't the only one staying on the Queen Mary 2. The U.S. women's basketball team, after spending a day in the Olympic village to mingle, has been staying there too.

Lisa Leslie, star of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks and a leader of the Olympic team, marveled at her Athens home.

"It's excellent," she said. "The accommodations are wonderful, very contemporary. Food is provided for you 24 hours a day. There is also a spa; they offer facials, massages and pedicures and they have a workout room where I can go lift weights.

"They have a pool and Jacuzzi. The food is catered. You can get anything -- Chinese, turkey and chicken, hamburgers and French fries."

It is not for the food or the wood paneling, not for the 20 restaurants or the king-sized beds and certainly not for privacy that an athlete chooses the Olympic village.

Most stay there because it is where their country's Olympic federation pays to put them, and they can't afford to upgrade to a suite on the Queen Mary 2.

Or they are like Roddick. They don't want to be pampered with soft sheets, hushed quiet or a marble bathroom. They want to feel Olympian.

Serhii Phyesenko, a swimmer from Ukraine who spends some time each year training in Mission Viejo, said he liked his dorm-style room in the village with the Ikea-like furniture. He didn't mind sharing a bathroom or not having his own television.

What he didn't like was finishing his competition, returning to the village and having to search for a place to party.

"My friends and I wanted to go somewhere, a disco, you know?" Phyesenko, 22, said while standing at the pin-trading area of the Olympic village. "In Sydney [at the 2000 Games] you could go from the athletes village close by and find the discos and it would be packed. So we went out when I was done with the competition. There were three of us; we tried to find a place. We walked to find a disco and went in. But we were the only three in the disco.

"That is no party."

On the QM2, one suspects that if an NBA star wants to party, a party will be provided.

"Man! We've got, like, 24 buffets a day," one U.S. male player gushed.

Another player complained that the elegant stateroom, where one can watch movies and access the Internet, was small for a frame that approaches 7 feet; otherwise, he said, the ship was great.

In the Olympic village, athletes can access the Internet too -- in a big room filled with rows of computers. "If you don't want someone to see your e-mail, you have to be kind of careful," Phyesenko said. "And sometimes you have to wait for a computer. But that's OK, then you just talk to someone."

Mostly, the athletes who have chosen to stay in the group housing -- where they might have to dodge Dutch athletes speeding around corners on orange bikes or find their path blocked by 300-pound weightlifters -- cherish the experience for the camaraderie and for a bond forged of common goals.

Roddick roomed with tennis teammate and best friend Mardy Fish in the village, where they introduced themselves to wrestlers, runners, gymnasts, volleyball players. They made such a friend in U.S. gymnast Blaine Wilson that Wilson attended Fish's gold-medal match.

The basketball players seem less likely to make new friends on the boat, Leslie said. "There are other people here who can afford to be on the boat, but we don't know who they are," she said. "We have plenty of free time, but we're not bothered by the other passengers."

Not much mingling or pin trading, it seems, or meeting a Turkish weightlifter in the cafeteria line. "That was cool," Fish said. "You never knew who was in front of you."

The Olympic village isn't scenic, set on the northern outskirts of Athens. The color scheme is beige on beige, with a kaleidoscope of flags from more than 200 nations hanging off the balconies or planted in the dusty ground in front of the concrete apartment blocks.

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