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NZ Olympic Team heads to Beijing
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The first wave of the New Zealand Olympic team's management left for Beijing on Friday in the guise of interior designers, the New Zealand Olympic Committee announced.

One of the first priorities for chef de mission Dave Currie and his support team will be to create a home away from home for athletes in New Zealand's compound inside the sprawling Olympic Village.

"We get a blank canvas within the village and we'll work really hard to make a little bit of Aotearoa in Beijing," Currie said.

Following on from a similar initiative at the Athens Games in 2004, the New Zealand team's base will be decorated with images and mementos from home.

Similar efforts will be made at the temporary homes of the equestrian contingent in Hong Kong, and the sailors at Qingdao.

Currie said the Beijing Olympics was unusual in the fact teams were fragmented - the soccer teams are also initially based a considerable distance away in Shanghai and Shenyang - ensuring they cannot participate in the Aug. 8 opening ceremony.

The soccer program starts two days before the Games officially open but in a bid to make those players feel part of the team they will spend a couple of days in the village before their competition starts.

"We want them to feel part of the team and have some sense of an Olympic experience," Currie said.

It is likely the only time the soccer teams will be in the host city as only the semifinalists return.

In another attempt to bond the far-flung team, a video link will be established to involve those outside of Beijing in the official team function - where the flag bearer will be named - on Aug. 7.

After their competitions end, athletes have been encouraged to break the shackles of village life and experience the Chinese capital.

"There will be opportunities to go to the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City," Currie said.

Currie, a five-time visitor to Beijing, doubted there would be any security issues should athletes roam.

"Visitors are protected and looked after. We'll be encouraging them to explore when the athletes have finished competing," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency July 19, 2008)

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