Beijing Olympic Village springs to life as athletes arrive

2008-07-27 10:19:58 GMT       2008-07-27 18:19:58 (Beijing Time)       Xinhua English

BEIJING, July 27 (Xinhua) -- The Olympic Village for the Beijing Games sprung to life Sunday with a grand opening ceremony to welcome its first delegation of Chinese athletes.

The village was opened by its mayor Chen Zhili, also vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for 29th Olympic Games (BOCOG). Designed to accommodate 16,000 athletes, coaches and their entourage, the sprawling compound is about 20 minutes' walk northwest of the Games' two centerpiece venues - the Bird's Nest stadium and aquatic venue Water Cube.

"We now welcome athletes from around the world to come to the Games," said Chen.

"We will try to satisfy the needs of people from different cultural and religious backgrounds. We hope you will like the facilities and services, and achieve desirable results at the Games," she said.

Chen received a symbolic gold key to the village from the BOCOG president Liu Qi, also the Party chief of Beijing.

The Chinese delegation was the first to check in by raising its national flag in the village. Athens Olympics 110 meters hurdles champion Liu Xiang and NBA star Yao Ming were among about a hundred athletes who were present at the ceremony. At least two other delegations, Cuba and Poland, are scheduled to arrive at the village on Sunday.

"Welcome home," Chen told the Chinese delegation, "as athletes from the host country, I hope you will present the peaceful and open stance of China." She also had talks to the athletes and wished them good luck.

The village, which sits in the northern part of Beijing, is divided into three sections of the international area, residential area and operations area. It contains a main restaurant that can feed 5,000 people, its own fire station, tea, coffee shops, a barber shop, post office, library, shops and a clinic.

"The village is modern and nicely fitted," said Glenda Korporaal, a senior writer from The Australian newspaper who comes to cover the Games.

Chen Wenbin, the head coach of Chinese men's weightlifting squad, said, "Coming into the village made me really feel the pulse of the Games and it will add impetus to our athletes."

Chen said the Chinese weightlifters will check in at the village around Aug. 5 and stay until their events end around Aug. 18.

"We will arrange training programs for the weightlifters after they move in, but before that, we need to send staff here to see to accommodation and dining and make sure everything is OK," he said.

Village spokesperson Deng Yaping said on Friday that 46 countries and regions have had some representation in the village since its preliminary opening on July 20. It is not yet heavily populated, but is expected to be fully lodged.

On Sunday morning, the first foreign delegation of 42 athletes from Poland arrived in Beijing. They were the first batch of Poland's 400-plus Beijing Olympic contingent including 268 athletes.

Most of the athletes coming for the Games will stay in the village. A few contingents have booked rated hotels.

Diversified meals, along with customized beds, space for religious masses and entertainment facilities, are part of the efforts to provide comfortable stay for the athletes.

Other services like chances of learning the Chinese language and watching Chinese cultural performances are expected to add colors to their Olympic experience.

In line with IOC (International Olympic Committee) regulations, a religious center has been set up in the village. Worship rooms are arranged for major religions -- Christianity, Buddhism, Islamism, and Hinduism and Judaism.

The total of 42 apartment buildings in the village was powered by solar energy. Water recycling system and environmentally friendly construction materials were used in the village. Some of the apartments have been sold out as upscale residences.

Mark Bos, a village protocol volunteer who has worked for three Games, advised the athletes to go outside the village to see the city and the people when they have chances.

"I spent four hours hiking on the Great Wall two months ago and the experience was the best in my life," he said.

"I have made a lot of friends since I volunteered at the Atlanta Games. The Games are not only about sport. It is about experiencing different cultures and meeting interesting people," he said.

The Olympic Village will close on Aug. 27 and reopen as the Paralympic Village on Aug. 30 until Sept. 20.

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