Inside the Olympic Village
Credit: Illustration by John Mattos

The race is on. Not in the pool or on the track, but through the congested streets of Athens, at a quarter to three in the morning. It's August 2004, and the Summer Olympics are in full swing: games all day, parties all night. Ouzo! Opa! But if Evan Morgenstein, an agent who has taken some medal-winning clients out for a night of celebratory Southern Comfort, doesn't get his charges back to the Olympic Village before their 3 a.m. curfew, he'll be screwed and they'll be homeless – and not just for the night. Because no matter how many medals an Olympian is wearing around his neck, no matter how many twists he can do off a springboard, if he misses his curfew, he'll be out on the street – for the duration of the Games.

"Holy shit," Morgenstein recalls saying. "It's 18 minutes to three."

With minutes to go and much of the city to cover – the Village is 12 miles outside Athens – Morgenstein starts chucking Greeks out of the way to get out of the bar. At the curb, he pushes his athletes into the back of a Mercedes cab, and the three of them squeeze in, shoulder to shoulder. But the driver won't budge. "No," he says. "No." He hates Americans, thinks George Bush is the devil – so Morgenstein lies. "We're Canadian!" he says. That gets the driver moving. But not fast enough, so Morgenstein reaches for his wallet and starts throwing twenties at the guy. "We have to be back!" he yells at the driver. "I don't give a shit what you have to do!"

Somehow, they manage to stumble past the Village checkpoint with seconds to spare. They're in – gold-medal drunks laughing their asses off, laughing to the point of tears because they realize how much that ride just mattered: It saved their spot in the Village, the rarefied confines of Olympic privilege whose highly selective gates open every four years, as they're opening now in London, to provide the world's top amateur athletes with a safe, media-free campus, filled with young, incredibly fit peers, on which to truly let loose for the first time in years.