I’ve been invited to sleepover in the Pan/Parapan Am Athletes’ Village and all I can think about is rollerblading.
Not because I ever do it. But because I’ve been explicitly asked not to.
The “village life guidelines” distributed ahead of Friday’s sleepover list rollerblades as contraband alongside items like firearms and illicit narcotics.
It’s an insignificant detail — exactly the type my curmudgeonly reporter’s mind clings to.
The 130 people invited to stay the night in the new West Don Lands neighbourhood are there to test facilities, such as the dining hall and the security, before 10,000 athletes, coaches and officials move in. Upon arrival it’s clear this is not merely a fun slumber party, but a test of a massive venue for an international event.
Security officers greet guests in an airport-style screening, complete with X-ray machines and metal detectors.
In exchange for my driver’s licence, I get a room key.
“From an athlete’s perspective, this is what we want to see,” swimmer Julia Wilkinson, looking around the village, tells reporters. “If I didn’t see this, I’d be a little concerned.”
Wilkinson, who works for the organizing committee, has been to two Olympics and a Commonwealth Games in the last decade.
When teams from 41 nations stay in one place, overseen by a handful of international sport federations and Olympic and Paralympic committees, there are rules — no guns, no drugs, no fighting — until the village becomes Toronto’s newest neighbourhood, after the Games clear out.
Mayor John Tory, who joined the tour briefly for a pizza-making photo op and joke about Ex-Lax, called the site “a truly mixed-use development.”
“I think it is going to be something iconic in the city in the time to come,” he said.
Ahead of multi-sport international events, athlete accommodations have made headlines in the past for broken doors, comical room configurations, or how many condoms will be handed out (Toronto’s total: 100,000). From my suite in the future George Brown College residence all I can see is room after room outfitted with twin beds covered in bright green branded duvets and yellow cubbies in every closet.
The pools are filled. The Coca-Cola fridges are stocked with free pop, juice, and water from the sponsor. Ten thousand room keys have been cut, TO2015 CEO Saad Rafi told reporters.
With almost three weeks before opening ceremonies, any fault I can find is minor — pure first-world athletes’ village problems: My phone doesn’t charge as fast as I’d like in the low-voltage outlets. The ratio of mint jelly to Frank’s RedHot sauce in the dining hall is, in my opinion, out of whack. And rollerblades are subject to confiscation.
Of course, athletes competing in roller sports will bring their equipment, said Allen Vansen, the executive vice-president of venues. But for safety reasons they are asked to keep it in their rooms.
“We ask that those athletes aren’t using the streets and the sidewalks as training grounds,” he said.
Some teams bring bicycles to travel around the village, so there is some leeway, he acknowledges.
I know. Because by the time I’m asking about the ban I’ve already smuggled in a pair of borrowed blades.
Sleeping on a twin bed in a sparse room has a frosh-week feel. In that collegial spirit, I set out just after sunrise on Saturday for a clandestine rollerblade journey in Corktown Commons, the 18-acre park absorbed into the village.
It’s before 6 a.m. and frogs are croaking awake in the pond. I slip on the blades, wearily rise to my feet, and glide.
The athletes will have a fine time, from the looks of things, and so will the Torontonians who one day call this home.