Piercing Moscow's fortified Olympic village
To leave the Soviet Union these days, it's not necessary to take a plane or a train. Instead, you can simply drive out Michurinsky Prospect for about 20 minuts from Red Square, until yoy see a gigantic wooden Misha bear smiling a coy welcome in the middle of a green field.
A few minutes later, you will have entered another world: a collection of colorful shops, fine restaurants, comfortable apartment buildigns, and convenient personal services that the West takes for granted -- but te average Soviet citizen has never known.
This cluster of 18 apartment buildings (each 16 stories high) and pleasant restaurants and shops standing on 257 acres of former wasteland makes up the Olympic village for the 1980 Olympics.
But to leave the Soviet world for the village world, to cross the barrier between shortages and abundance, long lines and no lines, frustrations and comfors, you have to negotiate a formidable barrage of security checks -- the strictest of the entire games.
The welcome mat is out for the athletes, coaches, and officials (about 2,000 from 50 countries at this writing). But "keep-out" signs are posted for almost everyone else, and enforced by Soviet soldiers armed with Kalashnikov AK-47 automatic rifles stationed along the fences.
To the teams themselves, the village is splendid. "It's much better than Montreal or Munich," said Philip Coles, general manger of the Australian team, as we strolled into one of four huge cafeterias (each seating 1,000 people). We surveyed an array of meat, tomatoes, apples, fish, lettuce, cucumbers, spring onions, fruit juices, soup, and soft drinks that would make a Muscovite gasp -- and a man from Tomsk or Tula weep.
"There's more space, more comforts, and more people to help. Our beds are made every day, and our laundry is done, ironed and folded, free of charge, in the basement."
To get in to see Mr. Coles, however, was a saga in itself. My first visit was relatively simple: a phone call, a drive to the village, a few minutes at a yellow hut exchanging my accreditation card for a special village pass. Inside, my briefcase was X-rayed, and I walked through a metal-detector archway. Then my briefcase was opened and searched.
Between the guard hut and the village proper I walked between cyclone-wire fences, past impassive soldiers with Kalashnikovs slung across their backs, past electronic tripwire beams for use at night. Through the two-story cultural center I went, to find Mr. Coles, resplendent in the green and gold track suit of the Australian team, waiting by the door that led into the international zone.
To visit the quarters of any team beyond the internatonal zone is more difficult. The head of the team must fill out a form giving your date of birth, citizenship, and other details, and submit it 12 hours in advance. Mr. Coles did that for me.
The following day, at the guard hut, officials wrote out a special pass, then did it all over again so they would have a copy.
I gave up my accreditation card, received the village pass -- and was promptly turned back by the guard at the door. I looked back at the man who had exchanged my Olympic card for the village one. He shrugged. I handed back the village pass, regained my games accreditation, and tried again. This time I got through.
Again it was the baggage X-ray, the metal detector, and the hand search of the briefcase. Onece into the international zone, I crossed over to the gates guarding the apartment houses. In a small white-painted building I found . . . another metal detector, and another X-ray machine for my briefcase. After this, the briefcase was searched by hadn yet again before I was free to enter the living area.
"But as officials," Mr. Coles said when at last I found him in building No. 2 , where the Australian team's 175 athletes occupy 1 stories, "we find security no problem. We can come and go easily."
Administrative Manager John Coates said that in Montreal each bus the team used contained armed guards. In Moscow, two guards rode on each bus but were unarmed.
"It's taking two hours for athletes to go through security at the airport, come here, go through village security, be accredited, and come into their apartments," Mr. Coates said. "In Montreal, it was three hours."
Athletes sleep two to a room. Each floor contains two 2-room and two 3-room apartments. Each apartment has wide hallways, a kitchen, refrigerator, bathroom , and toilet.
"The plumbing isn't up to Australian standards by any means. But apart from that we have everything we need," Mr. Coates said.
It is clear the Soviets have gone all-out to build an impressive village, free from the threat of 1972 Munich-style terror. After the games, the city will use the complex for housing. Officials say about 14,000 people will be assigned to the apartments.
The former wasteland and ravine area has been leveled and embellished with 5, 0000 trees. Shops are run by Japanese and other companies. Repairs for radios, cameras, watches, jewelry, household appliances, leatherware, and shoes are available. Restaurants, cafes, Russian tearooms, and bars can seat 6,000 at a time. A german firm has set up the cafeterias -- the same one that organized the Munich and Montreal village food.
Open-sided mini-bus/trains shuttle every few minutes between apartment houses and the shops and resturants. For training there are three gymnasiums, an indoor pool, three football fields, and a track-and-field stadium.
Right now the entire village is swept by steady, daily rain. But officials insist even the weather will clear for the games.