Five years in the making and, finally, the Glasgow 2014 Athletes' Village is finished and ready for the 71 competing nations of the Commonwealth to move in next weekend.
Situated in Dalmarnock in the east end of Glasgow, 700 residential units have been built to house 6500 athletes and team officials for the duration of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The one thing that sets a multi-sport event apart from other competitions, including major meets such as World and European Championships, is the Athletes' Village. During the course of a normal year of single-sport events, athletes will stay in hotels alongside athletes from their own sport so the novelty of an Athletes' Village, with the variety of nations and represented sports, is a welcome change from the norm.
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Throughout the course of my badminton career I experienced four Athletes' Villages - three Commonwealth Games, in 2002, 2006 and 2010, and one Olympic Village, in London in 2012. Of all the various experiences I had throughout my career, living in the Athletes' Villages was, unquestionably, my most enjoyable. This weekend, in Glasgow, I spent what will probably be my last ever night sleeping in an Athletes' Village, as the Organising Committee did a final check to ensure that the Village was ready for the arrival of the teams, and invited me for a sleepover.
Walking into an Athletes' Village is like walking into a different world. I can still clearly remember walking into the Village at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002; my elder teammates had described to me in advance what to expect but I was still not prepared for what met me when I walked through the Village gates for the first time. The sheer scale of it took my breath away and the sight of every competing country's flags hanging from the various accommodation blocks was thrilling.
There are a number of similarities that apply to every Athletes' Village in which I have stayed, although each one has its own idiosyncrasies and the Glasgow Village is no different. The appealing aspect of the Glasgow Village is that the accommodation is houses rather than high-rise flats which is what the accommodation at both the Delhi Commonwealth Games and London Olympics consisted of. The advantage of houses is that they cultivate a much cosier, friendly atmosphere as the athletes have more opportunity to mix with each other. There is also a high perimeter fence surrounding the Village for security purposes and it remains unclear whether this is to keep any intruders out or the athletes in.
The bedrooms in the Village accommodation are similar from Games to Games - there will be two athletes sharing a room, there are single beds, and the rooms are small and basic. In Glasgow, the new-build houses have been customised to suit the needs of an Athletes' Village and will be renovated after the Games to become residential homes.
Despite the lack of space in the bedrooms, the atmosphere within the Village will be electric. Every athlete is excited to be at the Games, nervous about their impending competition and proud to be representing their country. As the event progresses and more and more athletes finish their competition, the general feeling around the Village becomes much more light-hearted and fun.
One of the best Village pastimes is to spot different high-profile athletes from the various sports. At the Melbourne Commonwealth Games I had lunch next to swimming legend Ian Thorpe and, in the London Olympic Village, the Williams sisters walked past me while I was having dinner. In Glasgow, there will be no shortage of opportunities to star-spot in the Village with all the high-profile athletes due to be in attendance. David Rudisha, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Nicola Adams and, of course, Usain Bolt will all be housed within the Athletes' Village later this month.
The main dining area is the focal point of the Village. At Glasgow 2014, 4500 athletes are going to be fuelling up for their various events and when you consider the huge spectrum of palates that must be catered for, it gives you some idea of just how large an operation feeding the residents of the Village is. It is the sheer size of the dining hall which is the most remarkable aspect - the hall is lined with food stalls with every single type of food one can imagine. This can be something of a challenging temptation for the athletes who are competing in weight-controlled sports such as judo and wrestling. I had dinner with a couple of boxers at the Delhi Games who were close to exploding with frustration that they couldn't sample the wide variety of food that was on offer.
Another perk of the Athletes' Village is that everything is free. For two weeks, there is no need to carry a single penny with you. Irrespective of how many Athletes' Villages you have stayed in, the novelty of not having to pay for anything never wears off. It is a considerable shock to the system though when, on leaving the Village, you have to start paying for things again. Unfortunately, when you're back in the real world, Sainsbury's do not consider a flash of an athlete accreditation sufficient payment for a weekly shop.
A clear pattern of behaviour emerges in the dining hall in an Athletes' Village. Before the Games begin, the junk food is barely touched by the athletes. Then, slowly but surely, as the athletes complete their competition, there is more and more interest around these stalls. It is understandable - for months, if not years, athletes must be conscious of everything that passes their lips. Every meal must be healthy and every calorie must be counted. However, as soon as the competitors complete their events, they feel able to let their hair down. It is the one time of the year when an athlete can eat whatever they want without feeling too guilty and, take my word for it, the athletes make the most of this chance.
There are plenty of other services for the athletes - there are shops, a bar (which also gets considerably more busy as athletes finish their competition), an entertainment centre and a hairdresser. There is a huge medical centre which will deal with any injury and illness during the Games - they can deal with anything from athletes needing scans to dentistry problems.
The physio room was the location for one of my most memorable Commonwealth Games moments. Due to the number of athletes needing treatment, it is not possible to provide a private room for each patient so there are a few physio beds in one room. At the Melbourne Games, I was getting treatment only for Chris Hoy to walk in, promptly be told by the physio that for him to administer treatment effectively the cyclist would have to remove his shorts and lie on the bed in his pants. Embarrassingly, my physio had to rebuke me for staring at his famous thighs.
It may be a cliche but the Athletes' Village really is a home-from-home for all the competitors. It is surprising just how quickly the athletes settle in to their new residence and the Glasgow Village will provide a welcome sanctuary for the athletes from the madness of their competition venues. Not too many people ever experience an Athletes' Village but it is, undoubtedly, the heart of the Games for the competitors.
Scottish badminton champ, three times Commonwealth Games contestant, represented Team GB at the 2012 Olympics and now Sunday Herald sports writer