You could call it a home away from home. In downtown Beijing, U.S. Olympic team sponsor Bank of America has established a Hometown Hopefuls Family Center to give American athletes a place to spend time with families and friends, away from the competition. The Family Center is set up in a large, upscale Chinese restaurant facility called the China Lounge. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer reports it has been a popular gathering place.
The Hometown Hopefuls Family Center is open and busy for 12 hours a day, from 11 am to 11 pm. It is a place where American athletes, their families and friends can enjoy good food, view big screen televisions to watch the Olympic competitions, use the Internet to stay connected with loved ones and even get a massage for tired, achy muscles.
U.S. Olympic team sponsor Bank of America made it all possible.
"It's really the only place that's specifically designed to give athletes and their friends and family members a place to get together outside of competition; be able to, you know, relax, just enjoy comfortable surroundings, have a little piece of home here with them, but also enjoy a lot of the hospitality that's associated with the games being here in China," said Craig Auerbach, the bank's senior vice president of marketing.
Auerbach said that Bank of America started searching for a suitable site, two years ago. He told VOA the China Lounge, which is next to the Beijing Workers Stadium - one of the Olympic soccer (football) venues, was selected because of its size and versatility.
"We were really looking for an environment that had great space, had great elements of the Beijing culture. We also wanted a place that would just have nice, comfortable surroundings," said Auerbach. "We were expecting a lot of people here and we wanted to create an environment where people just felt comfortable, being able to go and hang out and relax. And, we were looking for some nice open areas, some nice closed, quiet, you know, isolated areas and this venue just really fit the bill, across all those different criteria. "
All the U.S. athletes, their families and friends who come into the Hospitality Center must go through security, register and get a photo identification card. Bank of America provides each of the athlete's guests with one ticket to a sporting event.
U.S. high bar silver medal gymnast Jonathan Horton enjoyed a complimentary dinner one night with his mother, visiting from Texas.
"The food is awesome. Everybody seems like they're in a pretty good mood tonight, so it's really great so far," said Horton.
His mother Margo has taken advantage of the facility a number of times.
"We just come here and we just relax, outside or inside, watch TV, get massages, the Internet's free. So it's been great," added Horton. "We love it."
And, what's in it for sponsor Bank of America?
"If you're a fan of the Olympics, and you know we're a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team, you're much more favorable towards the bank," explained Craig Auerbach. "You're more likely to buy your next product from us. You're more likely to recommend us to your friends and family. So, it's a great opportunity for us to communicate those kinds of messages as well."
The Hometown Hopefuls Family Center will continue to host U.S. athletes through the end of the Olympics, Sunday.