Melamed enthralled with Games 

Non-stop schedule sees mayor meeting dignitaries, speaking about sustainability, teaching underprivileged kids how to ski

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While he has been upbeat in recent years about the Winter Olympics, this week Whistler's mayor said the Olympic Games are "way better" than he ever imagined.

Ten days into the Games, on Sunday, Feb. 21, an upbeat Ken Melamed recounted his busy schedule to date and remarked on the unexpected showing of Canadian pride that is being displayed across Whistler and Vancouver streets.

"It's been amazing," said Melamed on his cell phone in Whistler Olympic Park. "The experience is beyond what I could have possibly imagined."

People can now see the result of all the hard work that has gone into pulling off the Games, said Melamed, and he tried to find words other than "fantastic," "wonderful," and "extraordinary" to describe the experience.

Since the opening ceremonies on Feb. 12, Melamed has been working non-stop, meeting with dignitaries, attending receptions and speaking to the media. Sunday's New York Times included a lengthy, generally positive piece on Melamed.

Among the people he has met are the Minister of Defence for the Republic of Germany, Canada's Governor General, the Norwegian Olympic Committee and the mayor of Sochi, Russia.

He has also met with the U.S. Ambassador to Canada and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

"He (Joe Biden) thought Whistler was just fantastic, as did the U.S. Ambassador to Canada who is a personal friend and appointed by President Obama," said Melamed.

But the mayor added that the most memorable Olympic moments for him have not been meeting politicians and dignitaries, but the nightly medals ceremonies at Whistler Medals Plaza. There was a lot of work that went into making those nightly events a reality, with a couple of large bumps in the road, said the mayor. The ambiance on the stage is breathtaking.

Melamed said he cheers for the international athletes as well as for the Canadian athletes but the night when Canadian skeleton racer Jon Montgomery received his gold medal was incredible.

The daughter of former Whistler councillor Tim Wake presented Montgomery with his medal; Melamed does not know how she was able to keep it together.

"For me, is it very touching and brings back that the reason we are doing these Games is the athletes," said Melamed. "To be able to share that moment with them when they get awarded a medal for their achievements... is very emotional."

The mayor was also excited by the two sustainability events that have happened during the Olympics.

On Feb. 11, he was part of a press conference at the Whistler Media Centre that included the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity, the International Olympic Committee and the Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee to initiate Whistler's 2010 Biodiversity Challenge. The challenge is in response to 2010 being declared the International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations.

Also, on Feb. 18, the mayor helped host a TEDxWhistler event at Whistler Canada House to discuss the issue of tourism's place in a sustainable world. Speakers at the event included Wade Davis from the National Geographic Society. (See related story.)

"It is possible to talk about sustainability during Canada's great sporting event," said Melamed proudly.

Despite his non-stop, jam-packed schedule the mayor sounded full of energy on Sunday morning. He said he is pacing himself and trying not to burn the midnight candle too heavily so he can make it to the end of the Games.

The mayor and Whistler's six councillors also hosted 60 elected officials from the Sea to Sky corridor on Sunday at the two-man bobsled event, followed by a reception at Whistler Canada House to show their thanks for the contributions everyone has made towards the Olympics. Money for those tickets was included in Whistler's Games budget, he said.

Among the more unlikely events of the Olympics, Melamed worked with Moroccan skier Samir Azzimani to teach underprivileged kids from France how to ski. Azzimani, 32, was scheduled to compete in the men's Olympic giant slalom and slalom this week.

Melamed said he first met Azzimani during a reception at the Canadian Embassy in Paris last November. At that time, Azzimani told the mayor of his plan to bring these underprivileged kids to Whistler during the Olympic Games and asked him if he could help.

Since then, the Resort Municipality of Whistler has put Azzimani's team in contact with Whistler Blackcomb to take care of rental skis, lift tickets and instructors.

And despite his round the clock schedule, Melamed took the kids to Olympic Station on Whistler Mountain last week to give them a ski demonstration.

"The Games are full of experiences like that," he said. "They are very spontaneous and they have just been fantastic. You can't move 10 yards without seeing something memorable."

 

 

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