What It’s Really Like to Stay In Tokyo’s Olympic Village

Tokyo Olympic Village

We’re just over a week out from what is set to be the biggest — and weirdest — sporting event of the year.

The Tokyo Olympics has been a long time coming and Japan, as the host nation, has been rocked by public outcry, huge safety expenditures, and a soaring rate of COVID-19 infections in the lead up to the biggest games on Earth.

The Olympics are supposed to be a special time when the world comes together to watch the cream of the crop compete at the highest level and we put politics aside to back our countries (of course, the Olympics is inherently political, but we digress).

It’s a real shame that what is supposed to be such a joyous occasion (remember the buzz during Sydney 2000?) has been marred by the pandemic.

Athletes will be facing the brunt of this disruption, as their normal work-hard-play-hard routines will be severely restricted to minimise the risk of infections during the games.

The Bangkok Post has done some digging on what it’s like inside the locked-down Olympic village and here’s a rundown of what life might be like for the athletes. It’s going to be nowhere near as glamourous as you might expect.

The COVID games

For the athletes taking part in the games, the inside of the Olympic Village will be almost all they see during their time in Japan. Strict coronavirus rules will prevent them from leaving the compound except to train and compete.

Their stay will not be a long one either. Competitors can only arrive a maximum of five days before their event and will have to depart within 48 hours of their performance whether they win or lose.

Athletes have recently begun to arrive at The Village, being dropped off from the airport by shuttle bus. This is different to the usual warm welcome that arriving athletes receive as welcoming ceremonies had to be cancelled.

The Village

The Village is located at the Harumi waterfront district of Tokyo, around six kilometres from the National Stadium. It is a compound made up of 21 residential buildings and 3,800 apartments.

The Village Plaza is designed as the social hub for athletes and includes a cafe, a florist, a bank, a photo studio, and a dry cleaner. There is also a Tokyo 2020 merchandise shop inside as well as a fitness centre, a recreation centre, a doping control station, and a clinic.

The Village has already been the subject of public ridicule online, with one user on Twitter comparing it to Pripyat, the former USSR ghost town and site of the Chernobyl disaster.

Concerns were raised when the International Olympics Committee (IOC), the organisation running the Games, announced it was considering banning alcohol within the Village but athletes will be pleased to know that this is not the case.

Alcohol will only be allowed to be consumed in rooms, however not in public or common areas of the Village, which is probably the most depressing way we can think of celebrating an Olympic medal.

The traditional distribution of condoms will not go ahead as normal either, with 150,000 Tokyo Olympics condoms being handed out to athletes and their supporting staff upon departure.

All Olympians will be required to wear a mask at all times except for when they are eating, drinking or sleeping.

Athletes have been warned to respect the rules in the playbook — the final version of which was published last week — or risk being fined or kicked out of the Games.

The Village is built to house 18,000 Olympians, coaches and officials. At this time of year in Tokyo, the sun rises at around 4:30am, but all apartments are fitted with thick, black-out curtains.

Olympic village
Recyclable cardboard beds and mattresses for athletes / Getty

The rooms are small, in keeping with Japanese approaches to urban planning. Single rooms are just nine square metres, and doubles are 12 square metres.

The beds and partitions walls are made from sturdy recyclable cardboard, designed to be easily cleared away after the Games when the 21 towers are turned into luxury homes.

The routine

Olympians and staff in The Village will be tested every day, first thing in the morning, for COVID-19. They will administer the saliva antigen tests themselves and then submit them for processing.

A positive result will mean a second, more accurate PCR test and a trip to the clinic. A third test will determine if they definitely have COVID. Those who test positive will need to isolate and will not be allowed to compete.

On the way to breakfast, athletes will be able to check an app that shows how crowded communal areas are, including the two floors of the vast 3,000-seat canteen.

tokyo olympic village
The gym inside the Olympic Village / Getty

Village residents are asked to eat alone to avoid the risk of spreading the virus and each individual seat will be screened off with Plexiglas.

The food, however, is supposed to be very good, with a focus on traditional Japanese cuisine. All dietary needs will be catered for and meals will have all nutritional values clearly indicated.

During the days leading up to their events, Olympians will be able to train in the huge, 600-machine gym. Masks, however, will be mandatory even when exercising and all machines will be cleaned frequently.

Athletes won’t be allowed to travel outside of The Village and will have to take dedicated shuttle buses from the site to their event.

On their return, Olympic teams can stop off at the Village Plaza, a wooden annex incorporating traditional Japanese construction techniques, to pick up a souvenir or get themselves a haircut.

Olympic village tokyo
Inside the Village Plaza / Getty

They can then grab one of the 17 self-driving shuttle buses that are roaming 24 hours a day to take them back to their rooms.

After dinner at the plaza, athletes can hang out in The Village’s recreation centre which offers Nintendo Switch consoles and spaces to relax — although mingling is not encouraged. They can also walk around the waterside park.

Competitors won’t be able to bring their families with them for the Games so will have to celebrate or commiserate with their loved ones through a screen. The Village does offer free Wi-Fi though, so at least that’s something.

If this sounds a little bit like Olympic prison, at least the competitors won’t have to stay long. Just make sure to cheer them on extra hard — they’re going to need that boost.

Read more stories from The Latch and follow us on Facebook.