With eight of 16 days of competition completed, Canada has a third the number of medals as the US – falling short of its bold expectations, but engaging most Canadians nonetheless.
Whistler, British Columbia
One week after the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics began, Whistler Village is crawling with people dressed in red scarves, red hockey jerseys, and pretty much any article of clothing that could possibly be emblazoned with the word “Canada” and a red maple leaf.
The happy throng also includes people from all over the world – Slovenians here to celebrate Tina Maze’s historic win in the women’s Super-G today; Brits walking away from the gold-medal ceremony for skeleton racer Amy Williams; Americans, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Swiss, Austrians, and even Irishman Charlie Mayne who came to volunteer.
How is it to be at the Games?
“I think it’s very good,” says Mayne’s 7-year-old daughter Cecilia, standing in line to get her photo taken in a bobsled parked in the village.
Most of the spectators agree with her, and a recent survey confirms what the red outfits suggests: Most Canadians are enjoying playing host to the world’s biggest sports party. Early problems with transportation, under-trained volunteers, and delayed events or canceled tickets have largely been resolved or overshadowed by the generally good vibe surrounding the Games.
“The organization is well-done, the transportation is well done, and we’ve had nice conversation with people from all over the world,” said Manon Desjardais of Montréal, adding that Alex Bilodeau’s moguls gold medal on Feb. 14 made her proud to be from Québec.
Still, Canada’s medal haul has been underwhelming, especially given the expectation set by the Own the Podium program: to win the overall medal count.
While many Canadians are too nice to say it, a comment on Facebook by Chris Ghinis sums up what many may feel: “sick of watching the canadians choke.”
“It’s frustrating because we know the potential, but unfortunately potential isn’t results,” she said, noting that the OTP results may not be visible until the 2014 Games in the Sochi, Russia. “You don’t get results overnight. In Russia you will see our young skiers stepping up.”
But she – like many other Canadian athletes who have fallen short – said that despite the frustration, it’s been amazing to perform in front of a hometown crowd.
“I’ve never had more words of encouragement than in the past week,” she said, echoing Jenn Heil’s words after narrowly missing a repeat gold performance in moguls. “If you look at the full picture of the Games, it’s been the most inspiring event for Canada in many, many years.”
A record 13.3 million Canadians watched all or most of the opening ceremonies, triple the number who tuned in for Calgary’s opening ceremonies. Some 27 million watched Heil’s attempt to win Canada’s first gold on home soil, according to an Angus Reid survey released Wednesday. Nearly 80 percent of locals say they’re “closely following” the Games, and half say the Olympics haven’t inconvenienced their daily lives – a 15-point jump over the previous week, according to the Vancouver Sun.
But in Whistler, there have been a number of complaints from locals.
“The Olympics are bad for Whistler businesses,” says Kevin Kobayashi, owner of the ski shop Fanatyk Co., who estimates his sales have dropped 40 percent. The two parking spaces that made his shop more accessible for customers have been turned into a no stopping zone, and he’s putting up three friends in his home whom he says were kicked out of their apartments on short notice to make room for Olympic guests.
“I’m about the most bitter person you could have – not about the Games, but about the organization,” he said in his largely empty store Saturday night, noting that he hadn’t been able to find an e-mail address or phone number on the website of the Vancouver organizing committee (VANOC). “It just feels like VANOC doesn’t care … and there’s no way to voice objections or opinions.”
The organization’s website does provide a main number to call, however, and VANOC spokesperson Maureen Douglas in Whistler says that more than 100 meetings have been held in the community to help engage businesses and make them aware of the opportunities the Games would provide.
"You never reach everyone because some people choose not to engage," she says, noting that VANOC representatives had in some cases gone door to door to talk with owners. "But some businesses are doing really well – those folks are people who spent more time working on an Olympic strategy."
According to her data, the number of visitors to Whistler has exceeded by 10 percent the annual high set on New Year's Eve and that every effort had been made to ensure that visitors were not replacing long-term tenants who had been kicked out by "opportunistic landlords."
Business was definitely hopping at Sushi Village in Whistler on Saturday night, when customers were being told that there was up to a two-hour wait for a table. Host Leah Gillies said that the demand was so great that they’ve also expanded their hours to include lunch.
“But that was just the past week. Before that we lost a crapload of money,” she added, noting that like Fanatyk, the restaurant had lots its parking weeks before the Games began. (The loss of metered parking spaces was due to a VANOC effort to reroute commercial traffic, says Douglas.)
However, some naysayers have become converts.
“I spent much of the last almost seven years with a frown on my face, a sour taste in my mouth with any mention of the Olympics,” wrote Whistler resident Paul Rowe in a letter to Pique magazine. “What I realized [once the Olympics began] is these Games are not about me, these Games are about all of us, even the bitter ones. This is the one time we have to come together and showcase the beautiful place we are so lucky to live in.”
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