I read recently that 150,000 condoms were distributed to the Olympic athletes in London’s 2012 games, which seems excessive by any standard. Is the Olympic Village really the raunchy sex den its condom consumption suggests? —Derek Blank, Nashville
You find this surprising? Here you’ve got a bunch of mostly single, insanely buff young men and women. You take them away from their accustomed surroundings in every corner of the globe and lodge them in the private enclave known as the Olympic Village. Then let them get pumped up with nervous excitement and competitive spirit over several days, throw them a few parties, and supply alcohol. If I’m the manager in charge of Village party favors, my question is: Will 150,000 be enough?
Granted, we don’t have detailed knowledge of what goes on. Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders summed it up thusly: “What happens in the Village stays in the Village.” Nonetheless, the accounts we do have give a pretty clear idea. A 2012 ESPN magazine report based on interviews with numerous athletes uncovered many spicy tales, ranging from same-sex hookups, toys, infidelity, and a group-sex orgy in a whirlpool tub.
Women’s soccer goalie Hope Solo, swimmer Ryan Lochte, and others have gone on record as reporting high levels of sexual activity at the Olympics. “Athletes are extremists,” Solo theorized. “When they’re training, it’s laser focus. When they drink, it’s 20 drinks.” Solo herself gained some notoriety for hinting that she’d sneaked an unnamed celebrity back to her Beijing room for a one-night stand.
During the summer games at least, athletes of both sexes go about their business minimally dressed—recalling Barcelona 1992 in the London Times, British table tennis player Matthew Syed looked back fondly on the “literally thousands” of female athletes “exposing yard upon yard of shiny, toned, rippling, and unimaginably exotic flesh.” Javelin thrower Breaux Greer put it this way: “Even if their face is a 7, their body is a 20.” And the dining hall is a full-tilt meat market, with everyone checking out what the others have brought to the table. At the 1996 Atlanta games, some French handballers reportedly showed up for lunch in their jockstraps.
Carrie Sheinberg, an Alpine skier at the 1994 Lillehammer games, described the Village as a sexual “fairy-tale place…where everything is possible.” (Sheinberg also claims two German bobsledders tried in vain to trade her their medals for sexual favors.) Greg Louganis reminisced about some same-sex snuggling at the 1976 Montreal games with a Soviet diver. Even the return trip can be raucous, with one United Airlines flight back from Sydney essentially turning into a drunken flying orgy.
Given the evident reality, precautionary measures are only prudent. Hundreds of thousands of condoms have been freely distributed since the Barcelona games for HIV prevention.
Overkill? Doesn’t sound like it. Reflecting on the Sydney games in the ESPN piece, U.S. target shooter Josh Lakatos claimed “I’ve never witnessed so much debauchery in my entire life.” He was so reluctant to see the party end that he snuck back into his Olympic dwelling after being asked to vacate it and threw it open to an endless stream of athletes looking to hook up, including at one point an entire women’s 4×100 relay team. It’s no wonder that even though the games were stocked with 70,000 condoms, they had to order another 20,000.
Officials of the 2008 Beijing games went further: They distributed 400,000 condoms in 400 hotels with rooms rated three stars or above, sending the oddly unsocialist message that the bourgeoisie gets its needs catered to while the proletariat has to fork out its own cash, ride bareback, or play a lot of World of Warcraft. (To be fair, Chinese officials did muster hundreds of volunteers to help raise AIDS awareness for the event and opened 40 clinics to offer free HIV tests.)
During the 2010 Vancouver games officials distributed 100,000 condoms, which would work out to 15 per athlete. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, a spokesperson clarified that this total included condoms given out to security staff and volunteers, and in public bathrooms. The athletes got just 40,000, or a mere 6.2 apiece.
As the legend of the Olympic Village has grown ever more colorful, condom companies now vie to become the official sponsor. For the 2012 London games the official provider was Durex, which shipped in 150,000 of its finest for athletic use. Controversy erupted when a female Australian BMX rider tweeted a photo of a bucketful of rival Australian-make condoms, labeled “Kangaroo condoms—for the gland down under.” The photo was a prank but nonetheless provoked a formal investigation by Olympic brand police, underlining the core message of the modern games: this may be amateur athletics, but nobody plays for free.
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