With less than nine and a half months until Feb. 12, 2010, it might be time to ask: whatever happened to our Olympics?
That may sound like a quaint question to anti-Olympians and told-you-so-ers who opposed the Games from the start. A quiet smile of satisfaction is no doubt bending the lips of many thinking, "finally." Or more likely, "well, duh."
But the Olympics are enigmatic. I am here not to praise them, nor to bury them. I just want to know what happened.
Remember back in July of 2003 when the Games were awarded to Vancouver, and Whistler was a very excited partner? There was lots of time to prepare for February 2010, because the alpine skiing venues were essentially ready. The Nordic centre and sliding centre had to be built but each of those projects was less than $60 million. The biggest issue was which 300 acres of Crown land would we choose to build the athletes' village on. The land, of course, was coming to Whistler as part of the deal for co-hosting the Games, with the understanding that the athletes' village would ultimately become resident-restricted housing.
Pride in hosting the Olympics and showing off Whistler was frequently mentioned back then. It may still come to the fore next February and March, but in the nearly six years since the Games were awarded the process of preparing for them has failed to touch the soul of the community, or inspire many.
Canadian tradition suggests that we seek out the largest amorphous organization involved and blame it. And VANOC certainly carries a large measure of responsibility. The on again, off again, on again medals presentations in Whistler did nothing to enhance VANOC's reputation. The failure to come to an agreement to rent high school space in the corridor, after specifically requesting that high schools be closed to house volunteers and Olympic workers, is another letdown. The transportation plan is encouraging, but the first draft was presented more than a year after it was promised. The parachuting in of senior officials for some Olympic test events, usurping local volunteers, did little to build pride. And accommodation for volunteers and professionals working the Games - from cruise ships in Squamish to wilderness camps to TCUPs - remains an evolving puzzle.
The dearth of information from VANOC has not instilled the Olympic spirit in anyone who will be living with the Games in February 2010. And given the growing pessimism about next winter outside of the Olympic period, the more detailed the information about who's staying, who's paying and how they are getting here next February, the better.
But the lack of information is not entirely VANOC's fault. The rapid nosedive of the economy has forced the organization to make changes. No doubt the whims of the IOC, sponsors and governments have forced VANOC to reconsider or recast plans, too. VANOC has been subject to the cost-plus tendencies of the construction industry and others contracted to provide services. And Whistler, collectively, can take a large chunk of responsibility for the fact that most national Olympic committees and sponsors have chosen to be based in Vancouver during the Games, rather than our town.
Whistler's Olympic office hasn't been as transparent as hoped, either. If the motto for the Torino Olympics was "Passion Lives Here," the working motto for the Whistler Games might be "Committee Meetings R Us." That would, of course, be subject to final approval sometime in the future.
Elaborate works of art have been commissioned for the Games in Whistler. The test events have gone off marvelously (and Whistler looked good on television sets in Europe). Workshops on procurement opportunities have been offered for several years, and some local businesses have secured contracts or identified opportunities during the Games.
But the question - What happened to our Olympics? - is not about what Whistler is getting from co-hosting the Games - we're getting plenty. The question is what have we done to put our stamp on these Games? Why aren't more people excited about the Games?
Park City decided early on that it was going to be the party place during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The closest the Whistler community (as opposed to the Whistler bureaucracy) has come to reaching out and staking a claim to this global event is the proposal by Councillor Tom Thomson to create a special Whistler medallion and present one to each Olympic athlete competing in Whistler.
Of course, the proposal still has to be approved by VANOC.