What It’s Really Like to Sleep in the Olympic Village, According to the Actual Athletes

The Olympics is one of the most exclusive and prestigious athletic events, but that status doesn’t always translate to the day-to-day. When it comes to nighttime accommodations, athletes say the vibe is more “college dorm” than “luxury hotel.”

The curiosity about what athlete bedrooms are actually like came to a head during Tokyo, when social media flooded with videos of cardboard “anti-sex” beds, and once again in the lead-up to Paris. This year, the big controversy was that air conditioning was missing from Olympic Village setups (except, well, until Team USA announced they’d be bringing their own.)

To find out what it’s actually like to wind down and wake up in the storied Village, we connected with Olympians and Paralympians for their reflections on how they crashed before and after competition.

1. You’ll probably need to get comfy with (new) roomies….

“Depending on how big your team is, you might be with just them or with folks from other sports too. I’ve roomed with baseball players, trampoline guys, rowers; it depends on schedules. Generally, they put two people in a room, though some rooms only have one person. You have a little living area and one or two bathrooms, then you might be able to see where a little kitchen is going to go once the athletes leave. Pretty much every building we stayed at would be turned into actual apartments after, so they’re laid out like apartments rather than a single hotel room.” —Brady Ellison, archer who competed in Beijing in 2008, won silver in London in 2012, silver and bronze in Rio in 2016, and competed in Tokyo in 2020

2. And stay comfortable with them.

“We have 13 athletes that make up our roster, and so we split up by seven and six into two different apartments. You’re living with that group of six or seven for the entire two weeks. Unlike at a hotel, there’s a common room, like a living room where everyone gets to be in together. It feels more like you’re at home in some ways. We play Bananagrams and card games to pass the time in the evenings and ease stress.” —Maddie Musselman, water polo player who won gold in Rio in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020

3. Your neighbors might make it hard to rest.

“In London, we were across the courtyard from the Italians, and they drank espresso at night and stayed up smoking in the courtyard. Usually, the weather in England is not very warm, so they didn’t put air-conditioning in. But they had a heat wave, so our windows were open and the smoke would be coming in at night.” —April Ross, beach volleyball player who won silver in London in 2012, bronze in Rio in 2016, and gold in Tokyo in 2020

4. So no, you won’t get complete silence.

“You’re living in a dorm where you can hear through the walls; it’s a tiny bed, and you’re sharing a bathroom with six people.” —Maggie Steffens, water polo player who won gold in London in 2012, Rio in 2016, and Tokyo in 2020

5. The beds themselves are getting greener—and if you’re super tall, you might get a special one.

“In Beijing, I remember having regular beds with a bed frame. But after that, they’ve all been made of recycled material in a way to go greener. They still have a normal mattress on them, but it’s just that the bed frame might be recycled wood or cardboard. Great big athletes—like your big throwers—might get a special bed, because they’re monster human beings that need more than a six-foot-five one.” —Ellison

6. You should definitely bring your own sleep amenities.

“It’s not like you’re going to a hotel where you turn the AC on or the heat on, or you go downstairs and ask for extra pillows and can get more shampoo. You try to think of the things you might need as an athlete and as a person and prepare for that. I’ll bring melatonin or an eye mask, because usually the curtains are not that dark. It’s probably going to be superhot in Paris, so I’m sure I’ll pack a fan. If you forget something, you get creative and you talk to your friends or talk to Team USA; they’re really helpful.” —Steffens

7. There are supercomfy Olympic quilts you’ll want to snag.

“In Tokyo and in Rio, we got an Olympic duvet, this nice quilt with the Olympic rings on it. Everyone took that home and in Rio I was like, ‘Oh I’ve got no space for it.’ So I left it there and I regretted it. I made sure to take it in Tokyo.” —Morgan Lake, high jumper who competed for Great Britain in Rio in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020

8. You might nod off to some tempting scents—and a crowd.

“In Rio, we had a balcony that overlooked McDonald’s. The McDonald’s queue was so long—everyone wants free McDonald’s. So people would come to our balcony and look out the window and see how long the queue is.” —Lake

9. All your stuff will take up pretty much your entire room.

“You want to be prepared at the Olympics—you’re going to be doing interviews and going to sponsor houses, and so you don’t just bring your competition gear. You bring dresses, you bring other outfits. We had three huge bags each, and our room was so packed with stuff we could barely move around. Add it all up, and it was difficult to sleep in the London Olympic Village, I will say.” —Ross

10. There might be some hookups going on.

“I almost feel like it’s become sort of this, like, insider Olympian joke where you talk about all the condoms. Maybe it’s happening. I’m sure it probably is; I never came across it.” Des Linden, marathoner who competed in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016

11. And definitely parties, but, no, your schedules won’t all sync up to enjoy them.

“In 2016, we were in apartments with track and field athletes, but in the next one, there could be a swimmer who’s already done competing. And there’s just partying. That’s sometimes a little hard, trying to sleep during it.” Marta Pen Frietas, middle-distance runner who competed for Portugal in Rio in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020

12. But with the right mindset, you can probably drift off.

“You could tell the beds in Tokyo were cardboard, but they were so comfortable. I slept great in Tokyo. I’m so grateful that I’ve had amazing roommates, and the positivity of the people in your room contributes a lot to the experience. It’s not perfect, and yet if you can see it as [an] experience, you can still get a good sleep. You can make the best of it.” —Susannah Scaroni, Paralympic wheelchair racer who competed in London in 2012, Rio in 2016, and won gold and bronze in Tokyo in 2020

Interviews have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

SELF is your one-click source for all things Summer Olympics. Read our latest coverage of the Paris Games here.


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