by Emma Lee-Potter, author of Olympic Flames
From the 100 metres to synchronised swimming, the eyes of the world will be on London 2012 this summer. The Olympic Flame has been lit, athletes are up to their eyes in training schedules and it's predicted that more than a billion people will watch the opening ceremony on July 27.
But even though the 15,000 athletes competing at this year's Games are ruthlessly competitive on the track, it's a different story away from it. With the majority of competitors living at the Olympic Village in Stratford, east London, for the duration of the Games, there will be plenty of opportunities to party, socialise and, yes, find romance too.
Sportsmen and women who have fallen in love at the Olympics in the past include gold medallist swimmer Anita Lonsbrough, who met her cyclist husband Hugh Porter on the plane to the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Tennis star Roger Federer got to know his wife Mirka at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, while Czech rifle shooter Katy Emmons met her husband Matt, a member of the American shooting team, at Athens in 2004.
So if you imagined that Olympic athletes train all day and go to bed early every night with a book and a mug of cocoa you'd be mistaken.
The 2012 Olympic Village will be home to 14,000 athletes during the Games and boasts shops, cafés, a 5,000-seat dining room, cinema and health spa. In fact one high jump champion declared recently that she wouldn't be staying there because if previous Olympics are anything to go by, the place will be full of people partying. "I'm off to a nice, quiet hotel," she said.
Olympic organisers clearly take a pragmatic approach. After officials at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona issued free condoms for athletes, other host nations have followed suit. LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, is providing 150,000 condoms for this year's athletes.
London 2012 looks set to be a spectacular event so when I embarked on a new novella the relationships of competitors away from the track provided a fascinating starting point.
The two main characters of my book, Olympic Flames, are showjumpers. One is British, the other American. I was intrigued by the fact that the three equestrian events - jumping, dressage and eventing - are the only Olympic sports where men and women compete against each other on equal terms. So my showjumping duo are not only romantically entangled but must put their feelings aside to compete against each other at the highest level.
Mind you, some athletes opt to put romance on the back burner and concentrate all their efforts on winning medals. It's been reported, for instance, that Usain Bolt, the fastest man on the planet, has ended his relationship with fashion designer Lubica Slovak so that he can focus on defending his 100m and 200m titles.
"He will have plenty of time for relationships," a source told The Sun newspaper. "At the moment he's concentrating on his running career and doesn't want anything to distract from that."
Emma Lee-Potter is a journalist and blogger. Her latest book Olympic Flames is published by Endeavour Press.
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