At the Olympic Village in Whistler, nationalities don't matter. Oh, if athletes were heads of state, things would get done.
Hannah Campbell-Pegg greeted Megan Sweeney with a hug.
Campbell-Pegg is an Australian luger. Sweeney is an American.
They are Olympic competitors, yes. But only on the track.
At the Olympic Village in Whistler, nationalities don't matter for Sweeney and U.S. teammate Erin Hamlin. On Wednesday, they ate with Canadians. The day before, the luge meal was multinational.
Oh, if athletes were heads of state, things would get done.
“When it's race day, it's race day,” said Hamlin, living in an Olympic athletes' village for the second time.
“At the end of the day, we're all just people,” Sweeney said.
On Wednesday afternoon, a group of media was allowed to see Olympic athletes as people. For the first time at an Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee gave media one-day open access to the athletes' village in Whistler that will house 2,800 Olympians in eight sports and another 1,200 Paralympic athletes in three sports.
The access was unprecedented and allowed media to get a glimpse of the athletes' dining hall, residences, fitness center and lounges. In previous games, out of respect for athletes' privacy, media tours were structured. The plan offered no flexibility, so the International Olympic Committee decided to shake things up.
On Wednesday, the media in Whistler were allowed to go where they pleased. The athletes were briefed beforehand and were free to decline interview or photo requests. But the access was there.
“It was a big risk,” said IOC Head of Media Operations Anthony Edgar by phone from Vancouver. “It could've fallen apart with 160 media in the village and residences and harassing athletes. The NOC (National Olympic Committees) said it worked well.
Sweeney, a first-time Olympian from Suffield, Conn., said the Olympic Village is not a big change from the World Cup series. There, the athletes interact regularly on their travels from one site to another. The difference for the Olympics, though, is there are more athletes. Whistler's village is housing skiers, bobsledders, lugers, skeleton, biathletes and ski jumpers.
“It's a grander scale,” Sweeney said.
The village is its own society with its own culture and rules - and comforts. Sweeney got a massage Wednesday. Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., has found more pleasing food choices, 24 hours a day, than she did during her first Olympic Village experience four years ago outside of Torino, Italy.
“One hundred times better,” she said.
Olympic pins are valued in the village, too, and trading with a fellow athlete is always a possibility and an opportunity for conversation.
“The rule of thumb is keep pins on your credentials,” Hamlin said. “It's currency.”
In the fitness center, a man wearing a Japanese shirt ran on a treadmill next to a woman from Sweden. A man from Sweden was next to her, and on his left was a woman from Korea.
The athletes talk about their sports, and the atmosphere is friendly.
“We talk as normal people do,” Swedish downhill skier Hans Olsson said. “Nothing special.”
Observer-Dispatch sportswriter Anne Delaney is covering the 2010 Winter Olympics. Contact her at email@example.com. She's also blogging at www.uticaod.net/blogs/sports/adelaney.