In Barcelona's Olympic Village, life's a beach


BARCELONA, Spain -- The real competition is on the beaches in the Olympic Village.

Swiss men seem to be in vogue, but the Italians are close behind. Scandinavian women are popular.

Barcelona's Olympic Village is like a huge outdoor party for the United Nations.

"I've been on the beach most of the afternoon," said Stuart Williams, 24, a cyclist from New Zealand. "I've been to other Olympic Villages, but they were concrete jungles."

There are nearly 14,000 athletes and officials in the village, which also includes a discotheque, bowling lanes, video arcade and a free medical clinic, among other things.

But the topless beaches are the hot spots. The best-looking bodies in the world are there.

The athletes strut and they stroll with pectorals flexing and biceps bulging.

And don't think the other athletes don't notice the bathing suits that could fit Barbie or G.I. Joe dolls.

"The Italians come after the Swiss," said Rowena Robert, 15, a British gymnast.

"Nah, the Swiss look better," said Sarah Mercer, 17, a teammate.

The men aren't so indecisive.

"The women all look good to me," said Che Frey, 18, a cyclist from the Virgin Islands. "I'll take any of them if they take me."

The beaches have become the spot to strut your stuff. Around midday yesterday, four women from the Canadian field hockey team had set up a rating shop about 100 yards from the entrance to one of the beaches.

And the winners were. . . .

Croatians, they agreed. But if the Dream Team ever decided to show, they would vote for them hands down. Even Charles Barkley.

Few people get in the water.

"Too much rubbish, especially on Tuesdays," said Robert, laughing.

There's been a lot of courting among the athletes themselves, and hometown residents.

"The beach is a great social scene," said Cecconi Claudeo, 27, an Italian baseball player. "People come here to relax, get away from the tension from competition over the last year. I've seen the Cubans with the Spanish, and the Spanish with the Americans. Athletes really don't have a language barrier."

And they sure dance a lot. After the beach, the most popular areas are the discotheque and the medical center.

"We just go there [disco] to kick it," said Yari Allnutt, 22, a soccer player from the United States. "We go to the beach to look at the women for 30 minutes, then we go to the disco looking for a little action. After that, we just go home to play cards."

Third World country athletes form their own line for the medical clinic. It's free, and they usually can get the treatment or drugs they can't get at home.

Like anesthesia.

Spain is also behind in some areas. Check out the movie listings in the village yesterday. Your choices were "Total Recall," "Rocky I," "Casablanca," "La nuitde Varennes" and "Un Flic."

"A little late, but it comes in handy when you're sitting in the room doing nothing," said Gillian Gowers, 28, a badminton player from Great Britain.

An athlete could always go to the bowling lanes or pool hall. There is also a video arcade complete with an upside-down jet-fighter simulator and a karaoke machine.

2l "I've really been impressed with the shops," said Gowers. "There is one of almost every variety and they also have a library and a church."

For the first time, the major religions of the world can worship under one roof at the Abraham Religious Center. Last Friday, the Muslims gathered for their afternoon prayers, followed shortly by the Jews and later the Catholics.

l And oh, the food. It's all high-energy diets, with most of the cooking done by the French. There is a central restaurant that seats 3,600. All the meals are free to the athletes.

There is a little Americana in the village. A McDonald's that serves gazpacho and beer. And a Pizza Hut about a mile down the street.

This has been Spain's attempt to create a spirit of "oneness" in the village, even though there are reminders that the world is not totally at peace.

Armed guards, some with Uzis, still patrol the streets, and helicopters frequently fly over the village.

Spanish officials fear an episode like 20 years ago in Munich, West Germany, when 11 members of the Israeli Olympic contingent were taken hostage in the Olympic Village and later killed by Arab terrorists.

Thus far, everything has worked. The U.S. team shares a common courtyard with the Brazilians, Israelis and Unified Team.

The athletes are dating, and disco music seems to have them of one accord.

"This is beyond my comprehension," said Frey. "I can't explain all of this to my friends. They will never understand what we have here."

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