Sasha watched as his four athletes as they walked into the enormous dining hall; they moved as though linked by invisible cord, never too far away from each other, constantly checking they were together, always making sure each other were ok. He marvelled at how close they had become since the World Championships the previous year, they had moved beyond a team and were more than friends, closer than sisters – even if they did still bicker like siblings!
The coach was on his second cup of coffee, even though it was only 8am, and third newspaper of the day. A heavy sleeper when he was the competitor, Sasha was the total opposite when he was a coach at a meet; restless, nervous on behalf of his athletes and unable to sleep. This, he mused, would be the most nerve wracking, sleepless of all competitions…it was the Olympics for Godsake!
The girls moved out of his line of sight, towards the buffet-style layout of breakfast. Various stations offered a huge variety of foods, catering for all nations. Without watching them, Sasha knew what each girl would have on her plate or bowl. They had only been in London for 3 days but routines were already setting in.
Kelly ate the most simple food for breakfast, fruit with yoghurt and a cereal bar with a glass of water and another of orange juice. Lauren wasn't much different, but leaning towards granola with her fruit and yoghurt mix (although her worry of something getting stuck in her teeth and not being close to her toothbrush was making the amount of granola smaller every day!). Payson was the only coffee drinker in the group, usually having a mocha and always bringing Sasha a strong black coffee as well (he'd never asked, but the extra caffine was always appreciated). She ordered an omlette every day, sprinkled with vegetables and the merest hint of cheese but never ham or bacon, although the server offered it everyday. Having realised, the hard way, that breakfast really was the most important meal of the day, Kaylie steadily ate through a bowl of cereal and dried fruit (Lauren pointed out every moring that dried apricots looked a little like ears) and then a banana and honey toasted sandwich with orange juice.
"Sorry," Payson apologised for the slight spill of coffee as she placed a cup in front of Sasha, "A little full maybe?"
He smiled at her, "Not at all, thank you. You ok?"
She took a seat opposite him and nodded, "Fine thanks, although we did have a little electrical problem last night," she shook her head with a smile, "We had practically all the plug sockets full, and then Kelly wanted to use the hairdryer. Not the best idea! We definitely blew the fuses!"
"Hey!" the brunette athlete appeared and dropped into a chair, "You said it would be fine! And you were the one charging your phone, laptop, camera and channel surfing at the same time!"
The girls laughed together, more so when Lauren joined them and attempted to steal Kelly's slice of watermelon, "I can't believe you snatched the last piece when you knew I wanted it!"
"You said melon!" Kelly retorted, "Never said what type!"
While the bickering continued, Payson plucked the source of the argument from Kelly's bowl, sliced it in half and placed a piece of melon in each girls bowl, "Sorted!"
Sasha leant back with a smile, nursing his new coffee, and resumed his earlier musings about the slightly unexpected sibling-like bond between his athletes.
"Alright girls, listen up for a minute please," Sasha rapped on the table with his cereal spoon to get their attention, "Today is predominately a day off for you, but that doesn't mean you can go and paint the town red and exhaust yourselves, ok?"
"Can we paint stars and stripes instead?" Kelly grinned cheekily.
"Not helpful Kelly," Sasha told his eldest gymnast, "I have some official things to do," this was accompanied by a roll of his eyes, "So you will be left to your own devices. I don't mind if you want to go exploring London but you have to stay together and I don't want you out later than 4. You'll do some conditioning and maybe some very basic training early this evening. Got it?"
All the girls nodded, "Can we get a map or something around here?" Payson asked, "And I don't know, some transport info maybe?"
Sasha was unsurprised at the blonde gymnasts request, she was the one who would make sure they didn't get lost, were back on time, and not shattered. "Of course, it's all in leaflets in the main entrance to the village," Sasha said, "Keep your phones on, and if you need anything I'll have mine on, even if I'm in a meeting. I need to head off now girls, but remember, back here by 4, and we'll meet in the entrance hall to our block of flats at half past. Have a good day".
As their coach disappeared Kaylie turned to Payson, "What's your plan then?"
The blonde frowned, "What? What do you mean?"
"I've known you half our lives Pay, and while your are super-organised and whatever, I know when you've got some idea forming. Now spill," Kaylie ordered.
Payson sighed, "Not here, if we're all finished eating, lets go back upstairs".
"Ooo-ooh, secretive," teased Lauren as she pushed away from the table and stood up, "Come on then".
The athletes cleared their trays away as they left the dining hall and headed back to the apartments they were calling home while in London.