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Old 08-05-2016, 01:51 PM   #1
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Inside the Rio 2016 Athletes' Village

It has its own florist, a beauty salon and even a McDonald's. But this is no ordinary village.

The Rio 2016 Athletes' Village is where the soon-to-be heroes of these Games are housed, a series of high-rise tower blocks accommodating the finest athletes on the planet.

"It feels like a little mini college town," Team USA tennis player Denis Kudla told CNN hours after arriving in Brazil.

"But instead of a bunch of students, it's the greatest athletes in the world, in every sport. So it's incredible to be here."

The likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps will call this place home for the next fortnight as they make their bids for Olympic history, staying alongside Olympians who are happy just to be here at all.

In front of the huge residential complex is an area that serves as a de facto town square. There's a grocery store, a dry cleaners and the aforementioned fast food restaurant with a queue stretching out of the door.

And for those who want to make a fashion statement in front of the world's television cameras, there are separate men's and women's salons to help athletes cultivate their Olympic looks.

Flag bearers are encouraged to pay a visit before their moment in the spotlight.

And just one day before the Olympics officially begin with the Opening Ceremony at the Maracana Stadium, the mood is light and positive, a sharp contrast to the recent headlines that called into question the readiness of the accommodation.

The Australian Olympic Team initially refused to move into its block saying problems with gas, electrics and plumbing made the rooms untenable.

Despite these setbacks, Australians are now settled in the village, in the same building as Evelina Afoa and Irene Prescott, swimmers from Samoa and Tonga respectively.

And both are happy to report none of the problems faced by Australian athletes upon their arrival.

"Our rooms were fine," Prescott, who's competing in 50 meters freestyle, explained. "We're staying in the same building with the Aussies. It's actually fine."

"Everyone has been really friendly as well," added Afoa. "I kind of expected people not to talk but everyone has been really approachable and friendly."

Prescott and Afoa are typical of many athletes basking in what could be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

For every Phelps and Bolt, there are competitors for whom the Olympics is their one cameo on the biggest stage and a unique opportunity to mix with athletes from around the world.

"It's been pretty awesome," said Prescott, with the giant national flags that adorn the apartment complexes visible over her shoulder.

"This is my first Olympics so I didn't really know what to expect. It's very big, very colorful and very beautiful."

And while Prescott and Afoa are enjoying the experience as well as the competition, other athletes have a singular focus and realistic medal hopes.

Colombian cyclist Rigoberto Uran took the silver medal in the road race at London 2012 and he hopes to go one better when he climbs into the saddle on Saturday.

Uran has been impressed with the village and the food on offer but he has found it difficult to practice on Rio's congested roads.

"It's normal because the people are working," the 29-year old said. "For the sport it's an Olympic Games, for the people, it's normal, (they) need to go to work."

But despite the challenges, Uran is savoring the unique atmosphere created by the Olympics.

"For me, I like it because it's totally different," he said, "different to Giro d'Italia, different to Tour de France. I like this experience."

Two first-time Olympians also relishing the Games are Jamaicans Danniel Thomas and Daina Levy.

"Just being here, the experience, it's really good because it just gives you a whole different meaning to doing what you love," Thomas, who will compete in the shot put, told CNN.

"I just feel like the atmosphere in general is really, really good and it just overshadows all the other things that are going on."

Levy agreed. "It's just uplifting. It's about people who are passionate about their sports.

"We're passionate about our sports, and you get to meet people who are genuinely interested in what you do. It's just a completely welcoming environment, I think."

While clearly embracing the camaraderie and warmth of the village, both admit there were some teething problems.

Levy said their rooms "weren't quite as ready as we would want them to be," although she added the facilities in the village are excellent.

Although it seems the plumbing issues haven't entirely gone away.

The pair reveal there are signs advising athletes not to flush toilet paper down the toilet, something Games organizers told CNN is recommended, rather than mandatory, and is common practice in Brazil.

"They give us little pink bags and you put it in the bags, close the bag, put the bag in the trash," said Levy.

And while the excitement among the athletes is palpable, Olympians aren't quite ready to start partying just yet.

"I don't know if everyone is waiting until after their done competing," said Thomas, "but I would say, for right now, it's on the down low."

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