Paralympic officials excited by what they see in Whistler 

Games part of changing attitudes, showcasing abilities

Whistler’s sense of community and excellent venues were good news to Paralympic officials who recently toured the resort.

"From a technical point of view… the facilities will be perfect and the sense of the community and the incredible views, it is all very nice," said Xavier Gonzalez, acting chief operating officer for the International Paralympic Committee.

Whistler is already in pretty good shape when it comes to providing for those with special needs said Gonzalez, who went on to point out that hosting the Paralympics would provide an even greater opportunity for the resort to target this growing tourism market.

"This is a new market that is up and running and as these things advance the benefits you will receive will off set the (investments) that you are making at this time," he said.

Gonzalez was also excited to come and see Whistler, chosen to be the Host City of the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics earlier this summer by the International Olympic Committee.

"It is very exciting to have this opportunity so early, to be able to look into the facilities and get to know the people that will in the end make all this happen," he said.

Apart from the opening ceremonies, which will be held in Vancouver, all the Paralympic events will be hosted by Whistler, including the medal ceremonies.

The only venue site still under discussion is the sledge hockey arena. Whistler must decide if it will build a new facility at the north end of Whistler Village or upgrade the current sports arena.

"I am very impressed. This is a very nice place and the fact that we are going to be able to have all the Paralympics in this place is very, very exciting," said Gonzalez, who has managed the organization of summer Paralympic Games in his native Barcelona as well as Atlanta and Sydney and winter Paralympics in Salt Lake City.

The real impact of the Paralympics, said Gonzalez, is their ability to raise the profile of the disabled and showcase their abilities to the rest of the world.

"Probably for us the most important thing is to involve the community and make sure the Games have a true impact in Canada and globally," he said.

"That means we will be working with the organizing committee when it gets up and going and with the community here to see how we can better take advantage of the fact that the Paralympics will be here for Whistler in particular, for Canada, for the world, and for the future.

"We believe the Paralympics can be a model of change for the attitudes of people. Canada is an advanced country in this area, but there is still a lot of work to do in a lot of other places and I think using the Paralympics as a showcase for the abilities of people with disabilities and particularly in the area of sport is a great opportunity."

Members of the Canadian Paralympic Committee accompanied Gonzalez on his whirlwind tour of the venue sites, which was also his first trip to Canada.

Hosting the Games in Whistler will be a unique event said Brian McPherson, director General of the CPC, because it will be the first time they have all been held in one tight location.

"This is going to be unique and its is refreshing," he said.

"For the Paralympics this will be a great Games from the point of view of its compactness. All athletes, all spectators, everybody will be in one place. It will be a great festival atmosphere in a great alpine venue. It will be what the Olympics used to be 20 to 30 years ago."

But McPherson is anxious to get going on upgrades or construction of facilities as test events will need to be hosted as early as 2007-08.

"The plans are all great so we are really looking to see some action and to start building," he said.

Part of the push to get the venues up and running is the quest by the CPC to significantly increase the number of medals they receive in the Games.

"Our target is to come in the top two so we need 41 gold medals," said McPherson.

"That will be a challenge for us as the most we have won at a Games is 15, so we have our work cut out for us. But we are going to bring the best team possible to represent Canada here in 2010."

Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said the resort has until 2005 to decide what it will do about the sledge hockey arena.

"Ultimately we need to meet their needs," said O’Reilly.

"But that is for a short period of time. So we have to ask ourselves what is the best facility over the next 20 years for our community."

Four hundred countries are expected to compete in the Paralympics, sending1, 700 athletes and officials. The Games will run from March 12 through 21, 2010.

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