By Bob Barnett
Until this week, public displays of enthusiasm for the 2010 Winter Olympic bid might best be described as muted. But all that changed Tuesday morning when more than 250 people gathered in the conference centre to cheer, wave flags and congratulate one another when it was announced Vancouver-Whistler had won the three-way race to be Canada’s bid for the 2010 Games.
"Our world changed as of 20 minutes ago," Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said shortly after the vote was announced.
"We plan to take full advantage of the publicity we can generate as a candidate city over the next four years. Now we can talk to everyone, not just the skiers."
It took two ballots and 10 days to decide the winning city, with votes fairly evenly split among the three contending bids in the first round. Vancouver-Whistler received 26 votes, Quebec City 25 votes, and Calgary 21 votes. With Calgary dropping off the second ballot Vancouver-Whistler picked up 14 votes for a total of 40. Quebec received 31 votes in the second round, with one ballot spoiled.
Seventy-two Canadian Olympic Association members voted 13 times on Nov. 21 in Toronto. The multiple-vote process was necessary to cover every possible combination of results, including ties. The ballot box was sealed and counting of the votes was delayed until Dec. 1, the day after the Quebec election.
The 10-day delay in counting the votes probably helped fuel interest in the final count, as four Vancouver television studios sent camera crews and reporters to Whistler for the Tuesday announcement.
Steve Podborski, 1980 Olympic bronze medalist in downhill at Lake Placid, was surprised the voting was so close on the first ballot.
"I’m surprised but delighted. This gives us an opportunity to take our place on the international stage."
Chamber of Commerce President Ron Hosner, one of more than 70 people from Vancouver and Whistler who made the trip to Toronto last month, said he felt Vancouver-Whistler had the strength and the room to grow on the second ballot. "I just wasn’t sure about Calgary," Hosner said.
Hugh Smythe, president of Intrawest’s Resort Operations group, said the Olympic bid will give Whistler "something to hang our hat on for the next four years," until the International Olympic Committee awards the 2010 Games.
"What’s great about this is the community involvement, it’s like World Cup," Smythe said.
"I slipped down the downhill course yesterday and there were hundreds of volunteers working. That’s the neatest part of World Cup, and the Olympics will be even bigger."
Throughout the Canadian bidding process a promised legacy of transportation improvements has been held up the biggest reason Whistler should be part of the bid. O’Reilly, who invited all the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District representatives to Whistler Tuesday and introduced them prior to the announcement, said the SLRD is working on a transportation plan for the whole corridor.
"We’re not building a transportation system to solve a two-week dilemma," O’Reilly said.
Those transportation plans, which have been in the works for the last year, will now become more formalized, O’Reilly said. He added that the provincial government has already said it will start working on a transportation plan, even though the IOC will not award the 2010 Games until 2003.
Smythe called the plans for the nordic venues in the Callaghan Valley "exciting, phenomenal."
"That will really round-out the resort. It’s more than a nordic centre."