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Wed Apr 16 06:17:22 SAST 2014

Dining hall deserves medal

DAVID ISAACSON | 08 August, 2012 00:20
Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, centre, eats next to Prince Albert of Monaco, left, and IOC member Sergei Bubka at the athletes' Olympic village during the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics. The canteen at this year's Games is said to be one of the best ever Picture: GALLO IMAGES

In this dining hall, Oliver Twist could have eaten until he was sick.

The canteen at the Olympic village, where athletes refuel their finely tuned bodies during the Games, is one of the most desirable destinations of any Olympics, apart from the main competition venues, of course.

Every fan wants to be at the main Olympic stadium watching Usain Bolt in the 200m final, or the aquatics centre witnessing Michael Phelps capture his 22nd career medal, or even at the equestrian park seeing Zara Phillips being cheered on by her cousins, William and Harry, while taking silver in team eventing.

But outside of competition, the dining hall is the most talked-about spot in the athletes' village.

Food from every continent is dished up daily, and there is a McDonald's counter where you can eat as much as you like absolutely free.

The hosts always have their own counter, and in 2012 it is Best of Britain, with servings of bangers and mash, black puddings and many other untempting items. The only way I'd open my mouth for such delicacies would be to yawn or scream; and it seems most of the people there agreed because it was somewhat deserted.

I dined at "India and Asia". Curry and spice are always nice and they suit my palate just fine. There was also a kitchen serving the somewhat eclectic menu of "Europe, The Americas and Mediterranean", as well as "Africa and Caribbean".

I've been into the dining halls at the previous three Olympics too - always at the invitation of Team South Africa officials - and this was the first one where nutritionists were available to help athletes with their diets.

Armed with a fancy computer programme, they can punch in a person's allergies, likes and requirements, and it spits out a recommended diet.

Presumably McDonald's and Coca-Cola - two of the main Olympic sponsors - seldom come up. A third Olympic benefactor also has a questionable health track record; according to Professor Tim Noakes, Procter & Gamble introduced crystalline cottonseed oil as an alternative to lard and butter in 1912 -- and heart disease and cancer rates rocketed soon after that.

It's no surprise then that McDonald's and other junk food remains off the menu for all serious athletes - voluntarily - at least until after their competition.

The types I spotted lining up for Big Macs and chocolate chip cookies looked decidedly like administrators. But the South African rowing foursome, who before each race had to weigh a combined 280kg, an average of 70kg each, were dreaming of junk food and beer within moments of winning their gold medal.

"McDonald's!" roared team member James Thompson.

"We sometimes have a competition to see who can put on the most weight by the end of the first night after competition. We quietly get on to the scales. We've had 8kg winning it."

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Wed Apr 16 06:17:22 SAST 2014 ::