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Thomson wants athletes to receive Whistler medallion

Councillor’s proposal would draw Olympians to Celebration Plaza

For decades, Whistler Councillor and artist Tom Thomson has been giving homemade medallions to people who have spent time on the mountains skiing or snowboarding with him.

The present is something people can wear around their necks or hang on their wall to remember the experience.

Now he wants to do the same for the more than 3,700 athletes who will stay and compete in Whistler during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. He wants the athletes to receive special Whistler medallions at presentations every evening in Celebration Plaza.

VANOC announced last month that the medals presentations for the Whistler events would take place at the sports venues, rather than at Celebration Plaza. The announcement came several months after the Celebration Plaza site was cleared of most trees.

"The plaza is taking a kicking right now, it's been kicked, but I looked at the empty glass that it is and said we have to find a way to fill it," said Thomson.

Thomson is suggesting specially designed medallions be presented to the medalists in each event, the Canadians who took part that day, and to any of the athletes who took part in the competition and show up at the plaza. It would be completely optional for the athletes, but Thomson wants them to go home with something from the community of Whistler.

"Wouldn't it be neat if we could give them a memento, a token saying 'thanks for coming here and competing your heart out,'" said Thomson. He noted that there is a precedent for these kinds of gifts and presentations at other Games. "They would go home with something substantial and beautiful that is uniquely Whistler."

It's just an idea at this point, but Thomson has discussed it with other members of Whistler council, who are receptive of the idea, as well as the Whistler Arts Council.

Thomson is suggesting a contest where the community would choose the winning design in a vote. The municipality would then obtain or set aside funding to produce enough of the medallions to present to athletes and other notable people. The presentations would be made in between musical acts on the main stage each evening, with thousands of spectators there to cheer on the athletes.

Although there won't be as much security nor any official 2010 overlay at Celebration Plaza, Thomson believes that the athletes will come.

"Say you're an athlete that won a cross-country sprint event, and you have three or four days to the next event... you're not going to stay in the athletes' village. Wouldn't you want to show up to stand beside the other athletes, and enjoy the experience?"

It's also a chance to celebrate and support Canadian athletes who might not land on the podium, says Thomson, and for fans to show their appreciation for the effort and years of sacrifice that athletes have made just to be able to compete in the Games.

Thomson knows that the clock is ticking, and hopes to bring the idea in a more formal way to council in the next few weeks, before launching a contest. He doesn't know what it will cost or where the money will come from, but he says it's important to get the idea out now so there will be time to solve any issues that might arise.

While he would like the support of VANOC he doesn't believe it's necessary as long as the medallions don't mention the Games or use Olympic imagery. Because the plaza is no longer an official venue Thomson says there's more leeway for Whistler to plan what takes place there during the Games.

"Basically there is zero downside, and a great upside," said Thomson. "It's a small something we can give the athletes on behalf of Whistler for coming and sharing our wonderful place."