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Maintaining the afterglow

For most people who went through it, the last couple of weeks were a once-in-a-lifetime, very positive experience.

For most people who went through it, the last couple of weeks were a once-in-a-lifetime, very positive experience. Not everything went exactly according to plan; people had to adapt, change their routines, some had to put their lives on hold for a little while. But for the most part the 2010 Winter Olympics surprised and delighted nearly everyone who was a part of them.

It's hard to explain to anyone who didn't go through it. The throngs of people in the village day and night, the celebratory mood, the energy, the highs and lows of competitions.

It was a long journey to this moment - 50 years if you consider the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics as the catalyst for Whistler. But even if you just consider the bid for the 2010 Games... to put the journey in context, Sidney Crosby was 10 years old in 1998 when Vancouver and Whistler beat Calgary and Quebec City for the right to put forward Canada's bid.

And it's over already. Some of the spirit and feeling will be rekindled during the Paralympics, where the Para-athletes' stories and performances may be even more inspiring than the Olympic athletes'. But there will never be another 17 days in Whistler quite as engrossing as the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Whistler needs to reflect on what it's just been through, focusing for the moment on the experience rather than the cost. We need to hang on to the memories and images of the Games. They are now part of Whistler's story, a story that we don't always celebrate as openly as we should.

In the last few years photographs were incorporated into Village Square to mark the celebrations for Ross Rebagliati and John Ryan when they returned from the 1998 Olympics and the cross-Canada Regeneration Tour respectively. But many other moments in Whistler lore are remembered only by the people who were there and the photographs they have stashed away in a box somewhere. There is, for instance, no plaque or roll call of the skiers who won the numerous World Cup ski races and freestyle events that used to be held on Whistler and Blackcomb.

During last month's Olympics nine Canadians won four medal events in Whistler. But the number of extraordinary performances, the number of stories is exponentially larger.

We'll all remember the Montgomery Stroll. It wasn't quite Pierre Trudeau's Walk in the Snow but it was something most Canadians can relate to. Drinking beer while walking through a public space is probably near the top of the Whistler RCMP's list of most common complaints, but when Jon Montgomery accepted a pitcher of beer as he headed for a CTV interview after winning the men's skeleton, the television images of him drinking from the pitcher became one of the defining moments of the 2010 Olympics in Whistler.

Sweden's Anja Paerson impressed everyone with a spectacular flight and crash landing off of Hot Air in the women's downhill. That she came back the next day to win a bronze medal in the super combined was even more impressive.

Petra Majdic of Slovenia was co-winner of the Terry Fox Award for demonstrating true Olympic spirit. Majdic crashed and broke five ribs in a warm up for her race, then went on to win the bronze medal in the cross country sprints. She received her medal in a wheelchair.

There were lots of other moments that involved Olympic volunteers or spectators, not in heroic roles but in little acts of kindness, friendship and pride. Indeed, the humanness of the whole Olympics - the joy, the crying, the cheering - created bonds, however temporary, that most other endeavours can only aspire to.

In the next weeks there will be many references to the Olympic "afterglow" - building business while Whistler remains fresh in people's minds. This was part of the reason for hosting the Olympics. But the afterglow should be more than marketing. Whistler needs to take steps to ensure that the Olympics become part of the lore of Whistler.

The redesigned Medals Plaza, or Celebration Plaza, or whatever its proper name is, should be part of this. The medal winners and Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili could be remembered here. But other moments and performances should be remembered too. "Legendary" is a word thrown around too casually in Whistler, but some moments from the Olympics should pass into legend.

The revitalized Whistler Museum and Archives Society can play a role in this.

Individually, most of us had our own "Olympic moments." Some are told in this week's letters to the editor. Others can be sent to us. We'll include some of them in next week's paper and all of them on our website.