March 10, 2006 Features & Images » Feature Story

Scenes from the Games 

From colliding buses, empty seats, the log man, and O Solo Mio, Pique editor Bob Barnett observes lessons learned for Whistler from the 2006 Winter Olympics.

click to flip through (4) Italian fans cheer at the women's downhill in San Sicario.
  • Italian fans cheer at the women's downhill in San Sicario.

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Once people are in Whistler, however, they will still have to get around by bus.

Whistler has three primary venues – the bobsled track at Blackcomb’s Base II, the alpine ski finish at the Timing Flats above Creekside and the Nordic events in the Callaghan valley – but in practice may have as many as six. The Nordic events require three complete venues: one for cross-country skiing, one for biathlon and one for ski jumping. If bad weather messes up the schedule for the alpine ski races men’s and women’s events could be held on the same day, effectively doubling the traffic to the Timing Flats.

And unless those 900 buses are converted to hydrogen fuel cells, the smell of diesel will become familiar in Whistler in 2010.

Size and scale

The buses were just one example of the scale of the Winter Olympics and the level of co-ordination that goes into them. Making sure those buses continued to run in the middle of winter required an army of mechanics and service people.

Construction of the venues was another example of mass co-ordination.

As mentioned, each of the nine mountain venues had grandstand seating for 5,000-8,000 spectators. Scaffolding and staircases for the venues came from companies in Ireland, Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

The Sestriere grandstands were particularly impressive, as the contract to build them had to be re-tendered just a month before the Games began. They were constructed at 2,000 metres elevation in the middle of January.

Games numbers

Officials expected 1 million spectators at the events over the 17 days of the Winter Olympics, although that doesn’t mean 1 million individual people.

There were also 10,000 members of the media; 6,000 guests of sponsors; 2,600 athletes; 2,500 coaches and team officials; 2,300 representatives of the IOC, national Olympic committees and federations; and 650 judges and referees.

Much was made of the empty seats at Olympic events and the fact that Olympic family members (corporate sponsors) didn’t make use of some of their tickets. VANOC has vowed that that won’t happen in 2010.

While there were some empty seats at mountain events at the 2006 Games, it wasn’t like skiers and snowboarders were competing in front of half-empty stands. At each event there were fan clubs for specific competitors, who made sure they were seen and heard, as well as spectators just interested in seeing a good competition.

To see a Winter Olympic event in the mountains also takes a bit more commitment by spectators than does, say, watching speed skating. The grand stands at the Torino mountain venues were all exposed to the elements, meaning spectators had to be prepared for everything from wet snowstorms to sunshine to the chill of a crisp, clear evening at 2,000 metres.

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