Thursday, 7 August 2008

The Village

Roger Federer, the tennis world number one is enjoying his last few days as the planet’s best player in and around the Olympic Village.

The Swiss has ruled the roost for the past four and a half years. But on August 18 the Spaniard Rafael Nadal will supplant him.

Federer is in Beijing because he’s after Olympic Gold. He’s won lots of other major titles and he’s keen to triumph here.

For that reason he’s not staying in the village because he gets mobbed by the other athletes and it’s not the best way to steel yourself for the approaching duels.

Victory could revivify his season. Federer who’s 27 on Friday has been given the birthday present of carrying Switzerland’s flag at the opening ceremony on Friday night.

It’s the only significant honour he’s got his hands on of late. Beaten for the third year running by Nadal in the French Open final, Nadal then vanquished him in the Wimbledon final last month.

Federer has been abject in his appearances since that defeat on the lawns of south-west London while the Spaniard has been impressive going on to win another title in Toronto.

While the two titans of tennis prepare to take chunks out of each other yet again, other athletes are relaxing in the village before the white heat of competition begins on Saturday.

Calling it a village is misleading though. The word evokes images of quaint country lanes and chummy people chatting as lambs gently bleat in yonder pastures.

This village houses some 15,000 athletes from the 205 national Olympic associations worldwide. Olympic Babel would be more appropriate.

And it’s certainly not a village in the modern British sense of the word because there are shops open and they’re flourishing.

Myriad languages may be circulating but they can all communicate when it comes to buying.

And why not? For the general store (open 9am – 11pm) offers athletes the chance to take care of life’s little banalities before their battles for supremacy begin.

They can stock up on those cutesy gifts for friends and family back home in Kazakhstan or Mauritania.

After all who could resist a set of commemorative Beijing Olympic pins for 999 yuan (about 100 euros)?

If that’s a bit out of the price range then a simple mug for 28 yuan?

That’s so much more within my remit that I nearly bought one. I didn’t as I’d probably have tried to have a cup of tea in it at the traditional Chinese tea house just along from the general store.

I stood outside and perused a notice outlining the available brews – oolong, green tea, black tea and jasmine. So I peered in. A smiling woman – oh OK let’s call her a tealady – came out and engaged me in conversation.

She told me that there’d be a performance - oh OK let’s call it a teadance – a bit later in the afternoon.

She advised the 4pm show as that was the best time for tea.

“That’s when the British usually have a cup,” I beamed.

Moreover it’s the time when I usually have a cup. I used to get a brew called tarry souchong from the tea section at Harrods, it was a smoky number and it was excellent, problem was I found I was getting less and less time to savour it.

It’s not something for when you’re harried and that’s how I appear to be having tea at the moment.

I’m pretty sure the Chinese approach to tea is more rites driven than my present bag in a mug thrust into my mug. Theirs is a commodity I can buy into.