Living like paupers

TURIN, Italy -- It's the Olympic Games, and no expense has been spared. Forgotten, perhaps, but not spared.

A quick check of the conditions at the athletes villages here yesterday confirms what most media types suspected the day they arrived: that while things look pretty impressive on the surface, the devil can be in the details.

For instance, organizers can ensure the completion of a massive steel walkway passing beneath a dramatic, illuminated archway and connecting the Olympic Village to points south and east, but they won't necessarily remember to hang curtains in the rooms.

They can turn an abandoned FIAT manufacturing plant, complete with a banked test track on the top floor, into a state-of-the-art media centre and shopping mall, but that doesn't ensure you'll get hot water in your shower.

Oh well, there's still a few more days to get all the bugs ironed out.

At least there aren't actual bugs to iron out.

"It's not the best we've had in the world, but it's certainly not the worst," snowboarder Maelle Ricker of North Vancouver was saying, recalling the time she encountered cockroaches on top of the coffee machine during a trip to France.

NOBODY'S ACTUALLY COMPLAINING

Actually, it sounds like Ricker and the rest of the athletes staying at the two mountain villages outside the city have less to complain about than those staying at the largest village right in town.

OK, nobody's actually complaining. They have had to be creative, though, to overcome some of the nuisances they've discovered in their temporary homes.

Take women's hockey veteran Jennifer Botterill of Winnipeg, who opened her room door only to find no curtains -- on the shower or the window.

"But a guy came by with a little miniature curtain," Botterill said, her usual cheery self.

"They brought a little window curtain. But it's barely ... it's this little thin thing. So we're, like, taping up garbage bags, kind of like making us a shower curtain. And on the windows, too."

At least her room has a hot shower, unlike some of the others.

Maybe it's because our amateur athletes are so used to living like paupers, but these inconveniences don't seem to faze them in the least.

"The paint looks good, the doorknobs are on, and the toilet flushes," shrugged women's hockey captain Cassie Campbell.

What more could an Olympian want?

Seems this bunch would much rather talk about the friendly welcome they've received, or the incredible support they're getting from back home, than worry about the small stuff.

Members of the hockey team, for instance, were treated like stars while staying in the village of Val Pellice last week.

"There were people who came out to practices to support us, and they all had Canadian flags in their windows," Botterill said. "It's everywhere. A little contagious energy, and I'm sure it'll only grow as more people arrive."

"They were crazy about it," added Campbell. "It's like we were soccer stars in Italy. They would ask for autographs, and we'd go into a restaurant and they would spoil us, try to give us wine. So the spirit here is alive and kicking."

Free wine? Sounds like a conspiracy to throw the girls off their game.

Don't worry, Campbell didn't bite. Make that, sip.

"When you get to be my age," grinned the 32-year-old, "you've got to be careful."

A bunch of little touches -- and one great big one -- have also helped make Team Canada feel right at home.

The Canadian support staff has made sure the athletes are well-equipped with comfortable lounges, cellphones and wireless internet.

The support from back home is a little more low-tech, but just as appreciated.

"We've got tons of posters from young students back in Canada," said snowboarder Crispin Lipscomb, who's staying out at Bardonecchia, home of the boarders and athletes from biathlon, freestyle skiing, jumping and Nordic combined.

That whole town seemed to show up to watch the Olympic flame pass through Sunday night, as the streets were full of cheering Italians.

Back in the Turin village, a five-storey-high Canadian flag, covering one complete side of one of the residential buildings, greets the speed skaters, figure skaters and hockey players every day.

And while it should serve as great inspiration, the thing has a practical use, too.

"Our bathroom window is covered by the flag," Campbell said.

Perfect.

A gold-medal view for Canada, and curtains for everyone else.

Now that's our kind of Olympics.