Accessibility links

Breaking News

What Do Olympic Athletes Do in Their Downtime? Plenty.

Washington, July 15 (RFE/RL) - Olympic athletes push themselves to every imaginable physical and mental limit when they compete. So it�s no surprise that when downtime comes, many of them expect to play as hard as they work.

The Olympic Village in Atlanta, in the southern U.S. state of Georgia, is ready for them. It features a huge swimming pool, a bowling alley, several cafes and discos, as well as some unusual opportunities for entertainment and fun.

The Village even has a program director specifically empowered to create interesting and enjoyable activities. Providing lively diversions 24 hours a day is considered essential to making the athletes' stay enjoyable and to helping them release some of their fierce competitive tension.

To meet that challenge, the Olympic Village offers elaborate ways for athletes to blow off steam. They can play a physically exciting game of Q-Zar, a form of electronic laser tag, which is housed in a huge tent. Olympians can chase each other through an iridescent green and orange maze, attempting to tag their opponents out.

The tent is also home to a huge arcade gallery with tables for air hockey, pool and ping-pong. For the latest in electronic fun, athletes can try out virtual reality games which place them inside an electronic baseball batting cage or on a steep mountainside which simulates a ski slope.

For a more cerebral and wired challenge, Olympians can visit the "Surf Shack," where Olympic sponsor Information Business Systems (IBM), has set up hundreds of computers. Athletes can create their own Web pages on the Internet, receive and send e-mail and participate in a variety of on-line services.

Athletes can also dive into a music library with thousands of compact discs with music from every corner of the earth. A television viewing station provides programs in 23 languages.

Opponents can meet each other off the playing field at any of the many cafes and dance houses that offer live entertainment. Internationally-known acts such as the pop rock band Hootie and the Blowfish, reggae musician Ziggy Marley, and rap artist LL Cool J will join the many Atlanta musicians who have been invited to perform.

All of the activities in the Olympic Village are free.

One activity not sponsored by the Village, but for which officials are preparing, is sex. Dr. S. Boyd Eaton, the Village's clinic doctor, says condoms are available for athletes who choose to engage in sexual activity. After all, thousands of young people in their physical prime will be living in close quarters for several days. Romantic trysts are inevitable.

It wouldn't be the first time love blossomed at the Olympic Games.

A legendary, Olympic romance took place at the 1956 Games in Melbourne, Australia, between Harold Connolly, an American hammer thrower, and Olga Fikotova, then of Czechoslovakia. They met in the Olympic Village and reportedly fell in love at first sight. Both were inspired to win gold medals. Their relationship became an international sensation, especially in the West, since Fikotova was from behind the Iron Curtain. The world cheered when the couple married, although they later divorced.

Whether sexual encounters are helpful or detrimental to athletes is a widely debated topic among psychiatrists, coaches, doctors and athletes.

Most coaches are against sexual liaisons before a competition, fearing that it might interfere with an athlete's drive and competitive edge. However, a number of doctors, psychiatrists and athletes see nothing wrong with releasing a little sexual tension.

"Some athletes do better if their anxiety is up and some do better if their anxiety is down," psychiatrist Dr. Jeff Minassian told The Atlanta Constitution newspaper. "That's how you decide who should and who shouldn't indulge."

Sex is not an issue for every athlete, since many Olympic competitors, such as young women gymnasts, are in their early teens. Their downtime activities are likely to be heavily chaperoned by coaches, parents and team leaders.