Olympic village for Beijing Games opened with Chinese ceremony

The athletes' village for the Beijing Olympics was opened on Sunday in the presence of Chinese star athletes Yao Ming and Liu Xiang.

The village close to the key venues for athletics and swimming will accommodate 16,000 athletes and officials from 204 countries for the August 8-24 Games.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge will be the most prominent guest, while some athletes like world number one tennis player Roger Federer will chose to stay in a hotel.

"We now welcome athletes from around the world to come to the Games," said Chen Zhili, the mayor of the village and vice president of the organizing committee BOCOG, the dpa reported.

"We will try to satisfy the needs of people from different cultural and religious backgrounds. We hope you will like the facilities and services, and achieve desirable results at the Games."

Chinese athletes were the first to check in and the first members of the Polish and Cuban Olympic delegations were also set to take up their quarters in the village on Sunday.

The 66-hectare village has 42 buildings, swimming pools, tennis and baskletball courts, a library, shopping zones, as well as a hospital and fire station. Worship rooms are available for Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Jews.

Around 100 foreign chefs and 2,700 Chinese cooks will cater for athletes and officials in the dining hall seating 5,000. There are four zones offering Chinese, Asian, international and Mediterranean food. The menu will include Halal, vegetarian, low-sugar, Indian and Kosher food, with cards to show ingredients and nutritional value.

The athletes' apartments consist of three or four bedrooms around a living area, giving them an average of up to 22.5 square metres per person, compared with 19.5 square metres for Beijing residents and just 16 square metres at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Door locks are decorated with ancient dragon motifs and the entrance halls have ceramic ornaments of women in Tang dynasty-style costume in the entrance halls.

"This is one of the nicest Olympic villages. Conditions are one step higher than in Athens (2004)," said German Olympic Committee official Bernhard Schwank.

The athletes and officials are looked after by a large staff with some 2,700 hotel workers and nearly 5,000 student volunteers on hand.

Builders made extensive use of renewable energy, water recycling, energy saving technology, environmentally friendly construction materials and solar-powered lighting.

Air-conditioning is also solar-powered and much-needed - as Sunday's opening showed.

Chen symbolically received a large key for the village on a hot morning with a thick haze of pollution over the area - making it impossible to see the landmark venues National Stadium (site of the ceremonies and athletics) and Water Cube (Aquatics) which are just one kilometre away.

The NBA star Yao will be one of the most prominent residents, and Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal has also said he will stay in the village.

"If you go to the Olympics you have to go to the village," said the French Open and Wimbledon champion Nadal.

His rival Federer, by contrast, will not stay in the village because he may not get a lot of privacy there - a motive the Olympic supremo Rogge can fully understand.

"I can understand that. For some athletes its not feasible. It is not that they would not want to be there but they can not have privacy and can not have rest,"" Rogge told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Rogge himself plans to spend as much time as possible in the village once the Games are opened on August 8.

There he will also see the full Austrian team which has been ordered to stay there after the scandal of the Turin Winter Games 2006 when doping equipment was found in their private quarters.

The village will close on Aug. 27 and reopen August 30-September 20 for the Paralympics. The apartments will then be refitted and sold next year.

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