Sex in the olympic village
Illustration by Noma Bar
AMERICAN TARGET SHOOTER Josh Lakatos faced a conundrum. Halfway through the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, he and his rifle-toting teammates were finished with their events, and the U.S. Olympic Committee and team officials had ordered them to turn in the keys to their three-story house and head back to the States. But Lakatos didn't want to leave. He knew from his experience four years earlier in Atlanta, where he'd won silver, that the Olympic Village was just about to erupt into a raucous party, and there was no way he was going to miss it. So he asked the maid at the emptied-out dwelling if she'd kindly look the other way as he jimmied the lock. "I don't care what you do," she replied.
Within hours, word of the nearly vacant property had spread. Popping up once every two years, the Olympic Village is a boisterous city within a city: chock-full of condos, midrises and houses as well as cafés, barbershops, arcades, discos and TV lounges. The only thing missing is privacy -- nearly everyone is stuck with a roommate. So while Lakatos claimed a first-floor suite for himself, the remaining rooms were there for the taking. The first to claim space that night were some Team USA track and field fellas.
"The next morning," Lakatos says, "swear to God, the entire women's 4x100 relay team of some Scandinavian-looking country walks out of the house, followed by boys from our side. And I'm just going, 'Holy crap, we'd watched these girls run the night before.'"
And on it went for eight days as scores of Olympians, male and female, trickled into the shooter's house -- and that's what everyone called it, Shooters' House -- at all hours, stopping by an Oakley duffel bag overflowing with condoms procured from the village's helpful medical clinic. After a while, it dawned on Lakatos: "I'm running a friggin' brothel in the Olympic Village! I've never witnessed so much debauchery in my entire life."
TAKE YOUR MARK Home to more than 10,000 athletes at the Summer Games and 2,700 at the Winter, the Olympic Village is one of the world's most exclusive clubs. To join, prospective members need only have spectacular talent and -- we long assumed -- a chaste devotion to the most intense competition of their lives. But the image of a celibate Games began to flicker in '92 when it was reported that the Games' organizers had ordered in prophylactics like pizza. Then, at the 2000 Sydney Games, 70,000 condoms wasn't enough, prompting a second order of 20,000 and a new standing order of 100,000 condoms per Olympics.
Many Olympians, past and present, abide by what Summer Sanders, a swimmer who won two gold medals, a silver and a bronze in Barcelona, calls the second Olympic motto: "What happens in the village stays in the village." Yet if you ask enough active and retired athletes often enough to spill their secrets, the village gates will fly open. It quickly becomes clear that, summer or winter, the games go on long after the medal ceremony. "There's a lot of sex going on," says women's soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo, a gold medalist in 2008. How much sex? "I'd say it's 70 percent to 75 percent of Olympians," offers world-record-holding swimmer Ryan Lochte, who will be in London for his third Games. "Hey, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do."
GET SET ... The games begin as soon as teams move in a week or so before opening ceremonies. "It's like the first day of college," says water polo captain Tony Azevedo, a veteran of Beijing, Athens and Sydney who is returning to London. "You're nervous, super excited. Everyone's meeting people and trying to hook up with someone."
Which is perfectly understandable, if not to be expected. Olympians are young, supremely healthy people who've been training with the intensity of combat troops for years. Suddenly they're released into a cocoon where prying reporters and overprotective parents aren't allowed. Pre-competition testosterone is running high. Many Olympians are in tapering mode, full of excess energy because they're maintaining a training diet of up to 9,000 calories per day while not actually training as hard. The village becomes "a pretty wild scene, the biggest melting pot you've been in," says Eric Shanteau, an American who swam in Beijing and will be heading to London.
The dining hall is among everyone's first village stops. "When I walked in for the first time in Atlanta," says women's soccer player Brandi Chastain, "there were loud cheers. So we look over and see two French handballers dressed only in socks, shoes, jockstraps, neckties and hats on top of a dining table, feeding one another lunch. We're like, 'Holy cow, what is this place?'" Many liken it to a high school cafeteria, "except everyone's beautiful," says Julie Foudy, who has two golds and one silver from playing soccer in three Olympics and is now an analyst for ESPN. "We'd graze over our food for hours watching all the eye candy, wondering why I got married."
From one end of the village to the other, flags hang from windows and music blares from balconies. "Unlike at a bar, it's not awkward to strike up a conversation because you have something in common," Solo says. "It starts with, 'What sport do you play?' All of a sudden, you're fist-bumping." BMXer Jill Kintner, who won bronze in Beijing, says the Italians are particularly inviting: "They leave their doors open, so you look in and see dudes in thongs running circles around each other."
On the way to practice fields, "the girls are in skimpy panties and bras, the dudes in underwear, so you see what everybody is working with from the jump," says Breaux Greer, an American javelin thrower. "Even if their face is a 7, their body is a 20." In Beijing, even the adolescent female gymnasts got sassy with the water polo and judo boys who shared their training room. "That's where most of my socialization took place -- in a tub, up to my chest in ice water," says silver medalist Alicia Sacramone, then 20, who served as den mother to her teammates. "The younger girls would try to flirt with stuff like, 'Look at that butt on him!' I'm like, 'Excuse me, did that just come out of your mouth? Don't pay attention to his butt!'"
Quickly the reality sinks in that the village is "just a magical, fairy-tale place, like Alice in Wonderland, where everything is possible," says Carrie Sheinberg, an alpine skier at the '94 Winter Games and a reporter for subsequent Olympics. "You could win a gold medal and you can sleep with a really hot guy."
And no matter your taste, the village has got you covered. The soccer girls? "All hot, and they dress like rock stars," one male swimmer says. Male gymnasts? "They are like lovable little Ewoks," Kintner says. Sacramone has a few favorites of her own: "As far as best bodies, it's swimmers and water polo players, because that's an insane workout. And the track guys, they're sneaky-cute. Very serious, but when they lighten up, you're like, 'Oh, you're kind of adorable.'"
The challenge athletes face is what to do with their urges and when. "If you don't have discipline, the village can be a huge distraction," Solo admits. Some swear off sex until their events are done; others make it part of their pre-event routine. American shot-putter and silver and bronze medalist John Godina thought he'd seen it all in Atlanta: late-night hookups, friends disappearing for days at a time. But he hadn't seen anything like the dorm room in Sydney he shared with a javelin thrower, which had instantly become a revolving door of women without backstories. "It's like Vegas," Godina explains. "You learn not to ask a lot of questions."
That randy roommate of Godina's, Greer, picks up the story: Each day, the shaggy blond was visited by three women, sometimes just hours apart -- an accomplished pole vaulter and former flame; a mighty hurdler who "tried to dominate me," Greer says; and a "very talented" vacationer from Scandinavia. Greer says his Olympian partners were, like him, looking to "complete the Olympics training puzzle." When his event did come around, Greer nailed Athens' longest toss in prelims before a knee injury sidelined him. "I was a happy man going into competition," he says. "If you find somebody you like and who likes you, your world's complete for a second, and you compete well."
Still, some coaches try to limit late-night activities by enforcing 11 p.m. noise curfews, banning alcohol consumption or, in the case of USA Swimming, forbidding cross-gender visitation in bedrooms. Amanda Beard, with two golds, four silvers and one bronze medal to her name, was in a relationship with another swimmer during the 2000 Games but says, "People would walk around for miles to try to sneak somewhere."
Many on-the-prowl athletes maintain that they're driven by a simple human need: intimacy, if only for a moment or three. For most Olympians, the ramp-up to the Games is lonely. Not unlike movie stars on a far-flung movie shoot, the Olympics present the perfect opportunity to find a partner who understands where they're coming from. "Think about how hard it is to meet someone," Azevedo says. "Now take an Olympian who trains from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day. When the hell are you supposed to meet someone? Now the pressure is done, you're meeting like-minded people ... and boom."