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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Seeing the World at the Olympic Village

APSvetlana Grankovskaya, the 2004 world champion in sprint, stretching during a training session Tuesday at the Olympic velodrome in Athens. Track events start Friday.
ATHENS -- If there ever was a global village, this is it.

The entrance to the Olympic Village is lined with 202 flags, and banners draped from the sheetrock-and-concrete buildings announce the domain of each delegation. Thousands of the world's best athletes eat, sleep and hang out here between competitions.

The Dutch ride to dinner on funky orange bicycles. The British cruise around in golf carts painted with Union Jack designs that would make Austin Powers proud. A Moldovan race-walker speeds down the avenue, propelled by nothing more than his feet.

"I feel like I'm traveling and seeing the world just being in the village," said U.S. softball outfielder Jessica Mendoza, who confessed that she is trying to work up the courage to introduce herself to the Turkmen delegation at the dining hall.

At the recreation building, the pool tables are filled with Spaniards and Koreans, Kazakhs and Belarussians. Iranians, Argentines and Kenyans check their e-mail.

A Cuban 110-meter hurdler just captured a world record in the 110-meter hurdles -- on a Playstation terminal.

"Only here," Yuniel Hernandez said, pointing at the machine with regret.

Every taste is catered to.

The huge dining hall serves everything from moussaka to Big Macs. The outdoor movie theater -- Tuesday's feature was "Men in Black II" -- has surround sound. A DJ spins progressive house at the swimming pool as a few athletes work on their tans.

While some of the biggest stars have headed for the luxury of five-star hotels, U.S. tennis star Andy Roddick said it is their loss.

"They're missing out on a pretty cool experience," he said.

He and the other U.S. athletes live in a block of 15 buildings in the "Centaurus" neighborhood, sandwiched between the Canadians, the Brazilians, the Argentines and the Italians.

U.S. flags are draped from the balconies, and training shorts and sports bras hang from the clotheslines. In the Americans' lounge, water polo players chat on Instant Messenger.

Across the street, synchronized swimmers are going over their choreography in the living room. Down the block, softball players are watching a "motivational movie" on DVD: "Rocky IV."

The accommodations are Spartan, but that's all right. Most athletes say they don't have much down time anyway.

"We get, like, two hours of free time in the middle of the day, but we have to be in our rooms because it's 'rest time,'" said U.S. water polo goalie Brandon Brooks, using his fingers to make the quotation marks. "The worst thing is, there are so many other great sports events going on and I don't get to enjoy it as a fan."

Some athletes complained of boredom, saying there is little to do, especially at night. Brooks' teammate Layne Beaubien said he had trouble getting to sleep after the team's 7-6 win over Croatia on Sunday.

"You want to go to bed but you're up and your adrenaline's still going," he said. "I walked around here for about an hour and e-mailed a little bit."

A few have had time to venture out into Athens. U.S. judo athlete Nikki Kubes has seen little of the round-the-clock security that athletes were expected to receive. She went into town accompanied only by teammate Ronda Rousey.

"We took a bus, a subway and a taxi -- and we were fine," she said. "I saw the Acropolis from far away -- is that it on a hill?"