How the athletes unwind 

Whistler Athletes' Village offers nightly coffee house entertainment, drumming circle

Whistler is well-known for having a healthy nightlife. But Olympic organizers wanted to offer something different to the athletes and coaches who were coming to compete in the Games.

During many past Games, athletes' villages have featured discos, but the 2010 team wanted to offer competitors something a bit different: a coffee house atmosphere in the athletes' "living room."

"We really wanted to create a home for the athlete," Karen Jeffrey, manager of Village and Plaza Events for VANOC, explained in a recent e-mail. "A sanctuary, a haven, a place to rejuvenate. Very few homes have private discos. Whistler Village proper offers some of the best nightly entertainment anywhere during the Games. There is no way that we could compete with that - nor did we feel that that was our mandate. We wanted to create a peaceful and enjoyable atmosphere that was inviting yet not intrusive."

Jeffrey is responsible for all of the leisure, recreational, retail and entertainment services for the athletes inside the athletes' village, including two retail tents, main stage, fire pit, Four Host First Nations art gallery, multi-faith centre, DVD lounge, high performance gym, games rooms, Internet and phone lounges, as well as the "living room."

There, they offer 100 per cent Canadian programming, with artists like Kuba Oms, Dan Mangan, Ali Milner and Ashley MacIsaac stepping onto the stage.

"All of the musicians/artists that are performing possess the ability to reach out and change people's lives," Jeffrey said. "It could be their words, it could be their musicianship but mostly it's who they are as a person that is conveyed through their music."

Locals Rachel Thom, Ali Milner and Dana-Marie Battaglia will be performing for athletes, as will others from PEI, Calgary, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

"We've really tried to offer a cross sections of styles and cultures from across the country."

All of the music is accessible and fun.

"Artists were chosen not to promote their music but rather to connect with the athletes and touch their souls in such a way that it could potentially make a difference in their performance, " Jeffrey wrote. "The program really followed the mantra - unplugged and personal. If you were sitting in an intimate living room who would you want to play for you? What kind of art would you like to see?"

Organizers have also included a short nightly drumming circle around the "world camp fire," featuring First Nations drummers and others from around the world led by Brent Van Dusen of Alberta's Drum Café.

"All are welcome - we have hundreds of drums and shakers and other percussion instruments so anyone who wishes can partake," Jeffrey said.

While the living room is an intimate space designed to hold 40 to 65 people, it's been a busy spot for athletes. The space is outfitted with lots of visual art, a baby grand piano and a Vitamin Water bar.

"I am very proud of this approach - it's never been tried before I don't think," Jeffrey said. "I think that art is always looked at as the topping or icing rather than the meat and potatoes, but when you use art of all kinds - great art, and you build it into the fabric form the ground up - I really believe it makes a huge difference to everything that we do and everything that we can achieve."



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