Hope, defeat and hamburgers

Athletes share their stories, complaints and regrets at the McDonald’s inside Olympic Village

Australians pose for a selfie in front of an image of the Olympic Village.
Australians pose for a selfie in front of an image of the Olympic Village.ED JONES (AFP)

In Rio’s Olympic Village, athletes digest their defeats and victories with hamburgers. Seated on a wooden bench, the South African runner Jacob Rozani stares blankly, a lonely look on his face. He placed fifth in the 800 meters on Friday and he is out of the competition. “I am very disappointed. I expected to get to the final. So sad,” he says while his colleagues wait in the endless line at the McDonald’s inside the Olympic Village.

Rozani is not the only one who is sad on this sunny Saturday, in this place filled with beautiful people, beach sand and artificial grass. After a full week of competition, the Village where nearly 12,000 people are living – including athletes, relatives and coaches – is no longer as colorful for those who are saying goodbye to the Games.

I think many athletes don’t have McDonald’s in their countries and they go crazy when they see one here

At one of those wooden tables where they eat hamburgers any time of the day, Dreana, a five-year-old gymnast, talks about her brother, Teófimo López, and his defeat. The New York-born boxer who competed on the Honduran team lost his first battle and has said goodbye to his Olympic dream. His father and coach is complaining about the referee and corruption in the sport. Nothing about the city’s beauty can console him. “Yes, we are going to see Christ the Redeemer but they stole our match.”

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En la Villa Olímpica, la esperanza y la derrota se sirven con hamburguesa

Meanwhile, glowing under Rio’s sun and still hot from their triumph over France, the Spanish water polo team had their eyes glued to their cellphones. They complain about the long distances they have to travel to go train in the pools far away from Olympic Park, the fetid odor of the water in the pool that turned green and the food in the Olympic Village catered by a restaurant that serves Italian, Brazilian and Asian dishes. “It’s always the same, they don’t change it up. We’ve been here for three weeks. We’ve tried everything,” they complain as they devour Big Macs.

They are not the only ones who are unhappy about the food. A Jamaican runner in the line at McDonald’s confesses that she eats there every day: “It’s not the healthiest, I know, but it’s better than the cafeteria.”

“I think many athletes don’t have McDonald’s in their countries and they go crazy when they see one here,” says Sarah Atcho, a runner in the 4x100m relay. “It’s funny because to be honest it’s not better than the food in the cafeteria,” she adds while receiving a manicure that features the colors of her flag.

Where is the party?

Konstanze Klosterhalfen, the German 1500-meter runner, stands apart from the Japanese journalists on a touristic tour and athletes taking photos in front of a cardboard poster of the city. The young promising athlete is only worried about the sun. It had not shone in days during this Rio winter. Klosterhalfen has no cellphone, no hamburger in hand. Instead, she is carrying a copy of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. “I like to read to relax and concentrate,” she explains as she looks about, alone, in what seems like an Olympic Games amusement park.

There has been a lot of talk about the party scene on the other side of the wall that separates the Olympic Village from the rest of Rio. Parties where journalists usually cannot get in. Though there have been reports about some drunken nights and romances, many athletes laugh when asked about the orgies that are reported in the press. “They did not give us condoms. They are there only if we need them. The way they tell it, it sounds like they gave each one of us 40 and we have to use them. And tell us where the party is because we haven’t seen it,” the Spaniards joke. Atcho, the Swiss runner asks the same question: “Party? What party? Tell me where!”

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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