Is Whistler buzzing about the Olympics?


Prompted by the latest incarnation of live theatre in Whistler, and perhaps abetted by the general dearth of news in August, the Globe and Mail assigned Michael Harris to review the Whistler Theatre Project’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which for those who shamefully did not support it, ran during the month of August in Rebagliati Park. In the Aug. 25 edition of Canada’s National Newspaper Harris’s less-than-rave review read in part: “It’s hard not to be at least somewhat supportive amidst the pre-Olympic Disneyland buzz of Whistler.”

Which raised the question: what the hell is a pre-Olympic Disneyland buzz?

The inference is that Whistler is positively gob-smacked as the denizens of this little town and its rodent mascots scurry about preparing flower boxes and picking up pieces of paper from the village cobblestones in preparation for that glorious day in February 2010 when everything will be perfect; a light dusting of fresh powder on the Dave Murray Downhill can be blown off with the breath of an angel and the first Olympic Alpine event can begin, followed by the awarding of the first Canadian gold medal.

In fact, there are times when the pre-Olympic buzz seems more like a pre-evacuation growl.

True, the arts community is buzzing about the money that will be flowing into arts and culture programs over the next few years.

And there will be a free concert in Whistler Saturday with the unveiling of the Paralympic logo. This is an opportunity for Whistler to start to take ownership of the 2010 Paralympics, a powerful, under-reported and underestimated event. As a representative from the Salt Lake Olympics said in Whistler three years ago, you won’t be the same after you’ve seen the Paralympics.

Unfortunately, but understandably, the Paralympic sledge hockey and curling won’t be held in Whistler. In 2006, the compact Paralympics is still an impractical concept from a financial standpoint.

The bigger issue three years and five months before the Games begin is the decided lack of “pre-Olympic Disneyland buzz,” in Whistler and in Vancouver. We know where and when the events are going to be held and what the venues are supposed to cost to build. We know who most of the official sponsors are and we can guess at some of the athletes who will be involved. But that’s about the extent of it. The Games don’t mean much to most Whistlerites right now.

Certainly, to this point VANOC’s most immediate concern has been and should have been the construction of venues, which for so many previous Olympic organizers has been a huge problem. But CEO John Furlong has spoken many times about “touching the soul of the nation and inspiring the world” through the 2010 Games. That may still happen, but so far it’s hard to see the Olympics as much more than another big construction project.

In Whistler, the Nordic centre is the Olympic construction project that may have the greatest impact on Whistlerites prior to and after the Games (the affordable housing of the athletes’ village only becoming available after the Olympics). With inspiring gold medalists like Chandra Crawford and Becky Scott being the face of cross-country skiing and a new Olympic-calibre Nordic centre in the Callaghan, cross-country skiing could supplant alpine skiing in popularity among families.

But what do we know about the Nordic centre? The trail network is supposed to be expanded after the Games but that seems to be tied up in discussions among First Nations, commercial operators and the province. A Legacies Society is supposed to take ownership and operate the Nordic centre and sliding centre after the Olympics, but we don’t know who will be on that society or whom the society will report to.

At the local level, the RMOW presented a very preliminary Olympic business plan last fall, which is supposed to be updated… sometime soon. An Olympic spirit committee was talked about last year. An Olympic business readiness committee is… getting ready. A public “debriefing” on the Torino Olympics was held four months after the Games, in June, and attracted about 35 people.

But perhaps the most disconcerting Olympic preparations are by those who see 2010 as an opportunity to cash out of Whistler. There seems to be a pre-Olympic buzz among a generation of business owners, managers and property owners waiting for the right offer. Whether they get it remains to be seen. And where that leaves the next generation of Whistlerites is unclear.

While it may have been unrealistic to expect Olympic preparations to be much more than construction projects up to now, from this point forward we should be talking about what we want the Games to be.

The Olympics are often criticized for being nothing more than a two-week party. They should be a two-week party. They can also be a hell of a lot more than that, but only if we go out and make something of them.

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