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From Big Beds to Duck, With Loving Care

Aug. 11, 2008, 9:56 p.m. (ET)

Yao Ming will rest comfortably every night he's in Beijing - - every single inch of him.  Special extended 8 ½ -foot beds have been supplied China's 7-foot 5-inch basketball star and NBA players so their feet won't dangle off the ends.

Nothing but glowing praise has been heard for the new apartment complex in the Olympic Village that will house the world's best athletes over the next 16 days.  "The facilities are excellent, probably the best Olympic venue and village that I've been at yet," said veteran U.S. archer Butch Johnson. He should know. The former gold medalist has lived in five different Olympic Villages.

The numbers in this new complex are staggering:  42 buildings, 3,276 apartments, 9,993 rooms and 16,000 beds. Every room has a full-length mirror, night table and lamp, a full-length closet, shiny marble floors and a framed picture hand-drawn by Beijing school children for each athlete to take home. A 4,036-person staff runs and maintains the massive complex.  "We want to keep the village services like a hotel," said Jinzhi Hsu, Olympic deputy accommodations manager.

If athletes feel ill, the polyclinic medical facility is within a 10-minute walk of every apartment in the village. It provides basic medical services in dermatology, orthopedics, gynecology, radiology and optometry, in addition to emergency treatment.

"We've been averaging 50 patients a day," said neurosurgeon Zhao Yuanli, assistant director of the polyclinic. "That number will only increase every day once competition begins."

 If athletes want to exercise or play games between training and competition sessions, the village fitness center is within an easy walk. Besides the 50-meter lap pool, there is a DVD lounge and an exercise and weight room. 

"The Cubans and Australians are on the stationary bikes every day," said Isabella Farnedi of Technogym, manufacturer of the special cardiovascular and strength equipment.  "(Wimbledon champion) Rafael Nadal was here yesterday. A personal training key inserted in each machine records all the data of each athlete so they can see their day-to-day improvement."

Mid-afternoon, French tennis star Tatiana Golovin, 2006 U.S. Open quarterfinalist, could be seen playing air hockey. Three athletes from Spain played pool. An American swimmer slowly swam laps.

Athletes with insatiable appetites can get their satisfaction 24 hours a day in the dining hall, a massive building that has been producing 20,000 meals a day and seat 5,048 athletes at one time. "You'd be surprised how many are in here at 3 a.m.," said Catherine Toolan, executive director of the Olympic services catering project for Aramark. "Everyone is on a different schedule.

"By the time the village is full, we expect to be serving as many as 22,000-25,000 meals every day. Your biggest fear is running out of a particular item. You don't want to produce too much or too little. It's a fine line."

Toolan deals in metric tons, not pounds, when placing her orders: 50-60 tons of food every day, one million apples over the next two weeks, 2 million slices of bread, 2,000 tons of meat and seafood, 2 million bottles of water.

"We have 1,000 menu items," Toolan said. "For people with special dietary needs, we handle every special request we can. It could be something as simple as preparing a white fish with garlic and oil.

"We prepare salads like in any other country, and every salad item is washed with filtered water. I assure you the food is extremely safe."

The five Olympic dining facilities operated by Aramark require 7,500 employees. The main dining hall alone needs 2,300 employees and 1,000 chefs.  "Everything cooked is very authentic," Toolan said. "The favorite meal among athletes is the Peking duck or pizza. 

"We prepare 300-400 ducks every day. That's a lot of duck."