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In search of Olympic spirit



Thousands of miles away in a small alpine ski resort in Austria, Mike Janyk gets a hero's welcome home.

It's February and he has just won bronze at the FIS World Championships in France. Kirchberg, where the Canadian and American ski teams are training for the 2008-09 season is Janyk's home away from home, and the town isn't going to let him forget how proud they are of him. The streets fill with fans eager to show their support as he, along with teammate John Kucera and U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn, are paraded through town in a sleigh and welcomed to a stage in the main square.

Two months later, with the thrill of victory still fresh, Janyk heads to Quebec, and is mobbed by 500 excited kids at a juvenile ski race at Mont Saint Sauveur. They clamour for his autograph. They want to shake the hand of their new Canadian star.

And then Janyk quietly returns home to Whistler. There is no hero's welcome home, no party in the village, no school kids waiting to shyly to say 'hello.'

After months on the racing circuit, Janyk comes home as the first Canadian male ever to medal in a technical event at the World Championships, a huge accomplishment.

"I'm not saying that I was looking for that by any means," shrugs the 27-year-old, speaking from his parents' home in Creekside. "It was just the difference (in welcomes).

"It's really hard to put it into words but you do get a little sense that there are some people who are definitely upset and resentful, that (the Games) are coming and there's that left-out sense of pride, I guess."

Don't mistake him: Janyk feels the support and the enthusiasm for his Olympic dream from people in Whistler. He gets it firsthand when he's buying groceries at the local market, when he's hanging out with friends, when he's walking through the village and people recognize him. There's a wave of support behind him personally, family, friends, teammates, ski fans.

But collectively there is something amiss.

It's nothing tangible, hard to define, even tougher to point your finger to it.

It's that ethereal feeling of Olympic spirit.

The local disconnect

For the average Whistler citizen there seems to be a disconnect between today's realities and the enthusiasm and excitement that will be expected of them seven short months from now.

It's not just that there's construction upheaval from one end of the valley to the other. It's not that there are none of the prettier signs of hosting the Games visible, like building wraps, Olympic flags, and welcoming signs.