We’ve all seen the Olympics on television. We’ve heard a great deal about preparations for the 2010 Games and most of us know Whistler’s role, in a general sense, in hosting them. And we may even know a few of the athletes who competed in the Torino Olympics last winter and aspire to compete in 2010.
But beyond that the Olympics remain a concept, a big event that was awarded to Vancouver and Whistler three years and four months ago and will be upon us in three years and three months time. The Olympic organizing committee, governments of all levels, tourism organizations and people directly affected by the Games are doing what they need to do to be ready. But what, more precisely, the 2010 Olympics will mean or bring or change for the people of Whistler is still unclear to many of us. Which is to say, we are not yet prepared for the Games.
There is still time to get ready, to make the most of the opportunity, if we have a better understanding of what is going to happen. And if we understand that every organization involved will be looking after its own interests first. VANOC, for instance, is responsible for building the Olympic venues “on time and on budget” and producing the Games themselves. In more carefully crafted terms, “The Vancouver 2010 mission is to touch the soul of the nation and inspire the world by delivering an extraordinary Olympic and Paralympic experience with lasting legacies.”
Whistler-Blackcomb’s current slogan is “Born for the Games.”
Whistler’s strategic framework for the Games sees the 2010 Olympics as “…a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Whistler to maximize our exposure in the marketplace, further our long-term objectives, move us forward in achieving our vision (To be the premier mountain resort community — as we move toward sustainability), and create beneficial lasting legacies.”
Those lasting legacies are listed in Whistler’s strategic framework for the Games and include things like the athletes village, which will become resident-restricted housing, the Nordic centre, the sliding centre on Blackcomb, new snowmaking on Whistler Mountain and the highway upgrades. Organizations like the ski club, gymnastics club and Nordic ski club will benefit from the venues and equipment left behind. Awareness of Whistler will increase, which should help business in Whistler in the long run.
But what do Whistler people hope to achieve from the Olympics? What will it be like during the Games themselves?
Test events, which will be held over the winters of 2007-08 and 2008-09, should give some indication. However, there likely won’t be any test prior to 2010 involving events at the Nordic centre, Creekside and the sliding centre at the same time. Throw several thousand spectators into the mix and possibly even a few recreational skiers/boarders — because Blackcomb and parts of Whistler Mountain will be open to the public during the Games — and then try to visualize popping into the village for a bottle of wine or going to Creekside to get gas.
The people who have to get around during the Games, the companies servicing stores and restaurants, collecting garbage and port-a-potties, the buses carrying spectators, are planning for this scenario, and the limitations imposed by security measures. But are Whistlerites?
Getting around is obviously going to require more planning during the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean people should plan to get out of town. Unlike Torino in 2006, and arguably more so than Salt Lake in 2002, in 2010 there will be one town for the mountain events, Whistler, and one focal point, the village. Having nightly medals presentations for the alpine, Nordic and sliding events in Whistler Village is a huge coup. It will mean the village is alive and vibrant at all times.
But how many bars, restaurants and nightclubs are open to the public is still to be determined. Corporate sponsors, national sports federations and members of the Olympic family will no doubt want to host parties and dinners at Whistler establishments. How many should be closed for private functions and how many should be left open to the public will require some thought.
At the heart of the Olympic opportunity for Whistler is the fact that thousands of people from other parts of the world will be in our town — spectators, media, corporate executives, athletes. How do we make the most of that? What message do we want to reach those people? What are we celebrating? How do they celebrate with us? Why should they come back again? Will you still be here if they do?
These are the type of questions that need to be answered before Whistler is prepared for the Games.