Rio's Olympic Village: Patriotic Manicures, Not A Lot Of Coffee

Aug 4, 2016
Originally published on August 4, 2016 5:00 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The Olympic flame is nearly there for tomorrow night's opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Some 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries are being housed in a gigantic athletes village. NPR's Melissa Block went to check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHILIP SHEPPARD AND LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF JULIAN FELIPE'S "LUPANG HINIRANG")

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Each country's delegation is welcomed with pomp, anthem and flag-raising at the plaza just outside the village. When I visit, it's the Philippines' turn. This is really more of a city than a village - dozens of 17-story apartment buildings festooned with the flags and banners of the delegations staying there - Angola, Greece, Kazakhstan. On one tower, the go-Poland banners are overshadowed by we are Hun-believable (ph).

Once the athletes settle in, they can get free beauty treatments at the P&G salon, where they'll find lead stylist Betsy Pourvakil.

BETSY POURVAKIL: So we're doing patriotic looks with the nails, doing country flag and country flag colors.

BLOCK: Athlete Jackson Vicent is a rower in singles sculls from Venezuela. His country is in crisis with an economy in tatters and horrific crime. Maybe, he says, the Olympics can provide a bit of diversion back home.

JACKSON VICENT: (Through interpreter) Absolutely. As athletes, we want to bring that smile, to bring happiness to our country. Obviously, there are terrible things happening at the moment. But we are certain better times will come, and our work will be to give people in Venezuela something to be happy about.

BLOCK: This will be the second Olympics for Egyptian archer Ahmed El-Nemr. He's mostly happy, but there is a problem.

AHMED EL-NEMR: Actually, yes, I have some complains about coffee (laughter).

BLOCK: He's been shocked to find there is no coffee for athletes in the village apartment buildings or at the sports venues.

NEMR: I asked. They said we are only limited to Coca-Cola products. So...

BLOCK: You're kidding me.

NEMR: No. Yeah, that's what they told us in the venue.

BLOCK: Never underestimate the power of an Olympic sponsor. By far the most popular place in the athletes plaza has golden arches. The line stretches way out the door.

AFSHIN FARZAM: This is Big Mac.

BLOCK: You got a Big Mac?

FARZAM: Yes.

BLOCK: Afshin Farzam is a rowing coach from Iran. And yes, he got fries with that.

FARZAM: McDonald's is very delicious.

BLOCK: Delicious and apparently the lunch of choice of champions. Melissa Block, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.