16 Aug

Village People

Olympic kit of GB and Iraq

The White House, the Playboy Mansion and the Olympic Village – possibly the three places to stay in the world that create the most intrigue. Well, I can reveal that I have stayed in one of those three places. So, if you want some juicy tit-bits… read on, writes Chris Broadbent.

I remember the time when Obama called me into the Oval Office… ok, I jest.
So, I recall with great fondness that moment when those three Playmates sashayed into the Grotto and winked at me. Ok, even less likely...
However, I did stay in the Olympic Village. It was at the 2008 Beijing Games, when I was Team GB’s athletics press officer. Literally everyone not in the village - the journalists, friends, fans all want to know what life in the village is like. I was the same until staying there.
There does seem to be this notion that it is one long party. Crates of beer are smuggled in and sackfuls of condoms dished out as the world’s fittest and finest let their hair down, let off steam and let go of their inhibitions.  
I’d love to say all of that is true. But it isn’t. Or at least it wasn’t for this lowly press officer. I’m sure those gold medal winning Jamaican sprinters might tell an entirely different tale. But, from my experience, it was still a place like no other.
From being welcomed to the village by former England Rugby World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward to former prime minister Tony Blair popping into the Team GB office to sitting opposite Michael Phelps in the canteen as he wolfed down pizza like there was no tomorrow, midway towards a record eight gold medals, yes, it was a an eye-opening environment.
The tone was set from my first night there. I took a late night stroll around the village and as I returned to the Team GB block, there was another figure heading from another direction decked in red, white and blue kit reaching the entrance at the same time as me. “Hi mate!” he cheerfully said. It was the apparently dour, dull Andy Murray. See, the Olympic village can be a strange place.
The canteen is utterly enormous with thousands of nutrient craving bodies from every corner of the world to be catered for. So, the choice is huge. Asian, European, African, all diets are serviced. And yet, the favourite outlet - by far - for the planet’s healthiest people is the McDonald’s. 
It takes a little while to get your head round a free McDonald’s. But a few days in, I was happily ordering 24 chocolate brownies to take back and treat the rest of the staff. Of course, not all the time at the Olympics is spent slobbing out in the village, it actually involves long working days at the venues. There are scores and scores of shuttle buses to run athletes and team staff here, there and everywhere. 
On the night of the 100m final, I coincidentally caught the same bus as Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell on the way to the stadium. I remember thinking it was strange to be sharing a bus ride with two men about to be centre of the whole world’s attention. Sadly, no tragically, I didn’t get a selfie.
The international mix of the village is part of its intrigue and all nations mix freely in areas like the canteen. But it was also designed with international relations firmly in mind. So, the Team GB quarters were next to the Australians. After all, everybody needs good neighbours. 
But where there might be tensions, nation’s housing blocks are kept quite separate. Even to the point where the likely walking routes of a nation’s athletes through the village to the canteen or laundry are designed so they would be unlikely to pass another nation’s block where there might be political discord. 
For example, the Israel team are housed so they are less likely to cross paths with some Middle East nations’ athletes. Similarly, the Iraq team were housed far away from GB and the US and not in a part of the village I would have chanced upon.
Still, at the Games’ conclusion, I was determined to find the Iraq team and exchange kit with them, as many village residents do with other nations. It took me a while, but I found Iraq and was greeted by some baffled faces of burly weightlifters and wrestlers.
But I did my bit for international diplomacy and we exchanged kit, as well as smiles and handshakes. I’d like to think, somewhere in Baghdad, my Team GB top has been kept as a keepsake. Tatty though it is, I still have that Iraq T-shirt. 
It is my most treasured momento of my time in the Olympic village. A small symbol it may be, but for me, it represents the force of good that sport and the Olympics in particular can be.