Olympic legacies from the Greeks

What secrets are contained in the Vancouver-Whistler mini-bid book being presented to the International Olympic Committee this week in Switzerland, one can only guess.

The mini-bid book provides answers to a series of questions, including how people will get to the various proposed Olympic venues, ie. from Vancouver to Whistler. The answer the 2010 Bid Corporation is giving involves lots of buses going up and down the Sea to Sky Highway, augmented by passenger ferries between Vancouver and Squamish and a passenger rail service put in place specifically for the Olympics.

But the intriguing part of this answer is what form the Sea to Sky Highway will have by 2010. The provincial government, following a series of traffic studies, feasibility studies and transportation models over the last couple of years, is supposed to announce plans for upgrading the highway in the next couple of months. The IOC may be getting a hint of those plans in the mini-bid book.

The Sea to Sky Highway is a great name, but there’s not much else about it that anyone seems to like. It was Charlie Doyle who came up with the name for a contest held by the corridor chambers of commerce some time in the ’80s. But just as Nike reportedly paid a student only a pittance for the now universally recognized Nike swoosh, Charlie received only beer money for the name Sea to Sky Highway – and he had to harass the chambers of commerce to collect payment from them. He isn’t collecting any royalties on terms like Sea to Sky Country, Sea to Sky corridor or Sea to Sky Taxi either.

But Charlie’s romantic name for the artery that connects the Lower Mainland to its life-sustaining heart here in Whistler may be one of the first casualties of the bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics. After a flurry of stories in the Lower Mainland media this past week surrounding the delivery of the mini-bid book to IOC headquarters in Lausanne, it seems the Sea to Sky Highway has officially been re-named The Achilles Heel. It’s a Greek name and since it was the ancient Greeks who invented the Olympics, maybe the IOC will be impressed.

Most people know the legend: Achilles’ mother, Thetis, tried to make young Achilles immortal by dipping him in the River Styx. But she held him by the heel on first dip and then forgot to re-dunk him, so Achilles’ only weak spot was his heel. Achilles went on to become the greatest soldier in the Trojan War.

But according to John Robertson of the Web site wordexplorations.info, the term "Achilles’ heel" was first used by a Dutch anatomist, Verheyden, in 1693 – when he dissected his own amputated leg. Whether there’s a metaphor in Verheyden’s work that can be applied to the Vancouver-Whistler Olympic bid remains to be seen.

Because the contents of the mini-bid book are secret and for IOC officials’ eyes only we can’t confirm the highway’s name change, but cutting it down from four words to three would be in keeping with recent decisions by the provincial government.

But the Campbell government – making up for Thetis’ oversight – has also promised to strengthen The Achilles Heel, not just for the Olympics but to serve the corridor for years to come. Indications are that may mean upgrading the section from Horseshoe Bay to Squamish to four lanes, and building a third lane for the section between Squamish and Whistler. Whatever the decision, it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The money will be spent over the next eight years but the announcement is supposed to be made by the fall – a time when layoffs, closures and cuts in services will still be fresh in many people’s minds.

If improvements to the highway can cut down on the number of tragic accidents and improve the economies of both Squamish and Whistler, the cost can be justified. But it is still going to be a hard sell to the rest of the province. In the meantime, Vancouver Councillor Gordon Price will be speaking to the Whistler Chamber of Commerce next month about the virtues of leaving the highway the way it is.

One final note about Achilles. According to author Michael Macrone, Achilles didn’t always have a vulnerable heel. He always had a weak spot, but in the original stories it was his pride.

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