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Questions remain after Heiberg's comments

O’Reilly says IOC delegation impressed with Whistler’s commitment to environment They came, they saw, they skied.

O’Reilly says IOC delegation impressed with Whistler’s commitment to environment

They came, they saw, they skied.

This week Whistler played host to the International Olympic Committee’s evaluation commission as the resort’s quest to co-host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games continued.

The team arrived by bus Monday morning, after stopping at Cypress Mountain where the freestyle events are to be held.

As the evaluation team walked toward a display tent at Creekside life in the resort went on as usual. Few gave the group a second look. Instead skiers and boarders concentrated on getting up the mountain to enjoy the skiff of fresh snow which had fallen earlier and the brilliant sunny skies.

In fact the mountain was so enticing 10 members of the evaluation team, including chairman Gerhard Heiberg, hit the slopes themselves checking out the Dave Murray downhill, the proposed site of the men’s downhill event.

By all accounts the run was judged a success.

What appears to have been less of a success was the drive to the resort.

In an off-the-cuff remark Heiberg told BCTV News on Global that Whistler was "too far" from Vancouver.

He later clarified the remark saying: "No, I wouldn’t say that. We don’t want to change nature. This is the distance up here. What I said and what I think is that improvement of the road is necessary and you are going to do it whether you get the Games or not. We are very happy with that."

However, on Wednesday Canadian Press again quoted Heiberg as saying, "It is a distance that is too far."

Sam Corea, spokesman for the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation, believes the team does not see the road as an obstacle to winning the bid.

"We have always known that Whistler is a mountain resort and a mountain resort is not located next to downtown Vancouver," said Corea.

"It’s not so much the distance that is an issue it is the time factor."

Ministry of Transportation officials believe highway upgrades will shave about 25 minutes off the commute during the Olympic Games.

"When Heiberg heard more and we further explained that the people who compete in Whistler and who have Olympic business in Whistler will not be travelling the road on a daily basis… I think the concerns were addressed," said Corea.

In fact as the team was wowed by the resort the concern then became whether the village could support all the people who would want to be here.

"Maybe Whistler is too good in that (the evaluation team felt) that perhaps there will be even more demand and everyone will want to be in Whistler for the whole Games," said Corea.

"So we are a victim of our own success in Whistler."

Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly heard the same thing.

"(Heiberg) said that a lot of people are going to want to stay here because media and different people are not going to want to travel back and forth everyday," said O’Reilly.

"He just hopes that we can accommodate the demand because he said the demand is going to be significant."

The mayor said he assured the evaluation team the resort could accommodate those who needed to be here.

A couple of members also travelled to a section of the Callaghan Valley to put the Nordic Centre in perspective.

Later in the afternoon, after viewing the proposed bobsleigh/luge site, the team met in closed session to discuss various issues including the environment and sustainability.

O’Reilly gave one of the presentations before heading into an in-depth session with an evaluation team member.

"He was extremely impressed with not only with the community involvement, but also with our planning processes and all the background work, our vision document, our adoption of the Natural Step, and our sustainability plan," said O’Reilly.

"It was one of those areas where years of work really paid off because we had the depth.

"Whistler is a real enigma because we are so economically successful and yet we are so environmentally conscious and that is a wonderful thing.

"You can’t really do one without doing the other and they really liked that.

"They loved the physical environment, but they also loved our concern for it."

O’Reilly said the youth and vibrancy of the resort also touched the team.

"We put our best foot forward," said O’Reilly. "They are auditors and they are going to give us a good report, we know that. Salzburg and Korea are going to get good reports too.

"We know we are definitely in the race. We are competitive but we still have a lot of work to do between now and July."

The mayor also attended the gala event in Vancouver on Tuesday night. Many have described, as a mini opening ceremony and it certainly seemed to impress all who attended.

"I hadn’t ever been to a cultural event that felt like a Stanley Cup playoff game," said O’Reilly.

"It had that kind of electricity, people were just ecstatic."

Vancouver and Whistler’s bid also got another boost from Prime Minister Jean Chretien who skied in the resort Monday with Premier Gordon Campbell.

"The Premier and I, we think it is a fabulous place for skiing, the best in the world," said Chretien, as he and Campbell posed for photographers at the top of Blackcomb Mountain.

"I think it would be a fabulous place for the Games and that is why I am here."

Both leaders had just arrived on Blackcomb by helicopter after spending the morning heli-skiing on Ipsoot Mountain in the Pemberton Ice Cap.

Later that day both leaders met with Heiberg separately to talk about the bid.

"It was a very positive meeting," said Campbell.

"This is a huge obligation (Heiberg) has to the Olympic movement. He is looking at our bid as he has and will the other two bids and he is going to do his report."

Campbell said the state of the Sea to Sky Highway and Whistler’s distance from Vancouver did come up at the meeting.

"But (Heiberg) said it wasn’t a huge problem," said Campbell.

"He was making an observation. He wasn’t jumping to a conclusion about it so we didn’t actually talk very much about that.

"We talked about the Olympics and how excited people are all over the province about it.

"The Olympics is one of those things that is bigger than most of us. It is bigger than our day to day lives. It creates dreams for people… and actually that is a pretty big gift."