When the Olympics came to a close on Feb. 28, Mayor Ken Melamed asked people to remember that it's not over yet - with the Olympics come the Paralympics and nine more days of sports, arts and culture. So far he believes that Whistler has lived up to its end of the bargain by giving the event the recognition it deserves, and he encourages everyone to get involved by going to competitions at Paralympic venues or any of the other events taking place around Whistler.
"These Games were an important part of the package that VANOC assumed and we as partners assumed, that putting on the Paralympic Winter Games is very important for Canada," Melamed said on Tuesday. "These are Canada's Games and I honestly don't think we've made enough of it as a country."
For one thing, Melamed noted that these are the first Paralympic Games to take place on Canadian soil, as both the 1976 and 1988 Games did not host the Paralympic component.
As well, Melamed believes there has been a real appetite locally to keep the excitement of the Games going a little longer.
"The events are quite well-attended and the cheering for all the athletes has been great," he said. "And the sport and competition has been inspiring, as we've tried to prepare the community for - if you've never seen these Games, it truly is mind-blowing in a way to see the determination and athleticism of the athletes."
Ticket sales are well ahead of forecasts with both the opening and closing ceremonies selling out. As well, all of the sledge hockey games featuring Team Canada and the gold medal game have sold out. The wheelchair curling events are also sold out. The alpine downhill competition scheduled for Saturday was sold out, more than 6,000 tickets worth. Fog on the course forced the race to be postponed to Thursday, March 18.
Interest has been so high that CTV decided to broadcast the closing ceremonies taking place in Whistler on Sunday. The ceremonies will be shown live starting at 7 p.m.
"Canadians have demonstrated incredible passion and support for our Paralympians as they set new standards for performance and inspiration," said CTV in a release announcing their closing ceremony plans.
The network came under fire for not broadcasting the opening ceremonies live outside of British Columbia, instead showing to the rest of the country on Saturday afternoon. More than 1.4 million viewers tuned in to both events, while the Canadian sledge hockey team's opening game against Italy drew 1.14 million viewers.
Most of CTV's live coverage is related to the sledge hockey, although other sports will be shown live on TSN. CTV is also broadcasting 90 minutes of the previous day's highlights, for a total of more than 57 hours of coverage - 30 in French and 27 in English.
Melamed said some things are returning to normal at municipal hall, which reopened to the public after the Olympics, but they still host daily meetings with resort partners to stay on top of the demands of hosting the Paralympics.
As mayor, Melamed is busier than ever. While the number of media in town has been reduced from 4,000 to around 1,000, he still gets requests for interviews. As well, there has been a lot of international interest in the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program.
"I've been busy meeting representatives of different groups and being present at events like the Atlantic Canada luncheon, at sporting events, at the International Paralympic Committee's Hall of Fame inductions, at the Ottobock igloo. I have another function tonight with the lieutenant governors of B.C. and New Brunswick, and I've been to a couple of functions at Canada Whistler (Paralympic) House to thank athletes who have won gold medals, so it's been great," said Melamed.
He made a special point of attending the individual cross-country races on the weekend, because that was one of the events he saw while visiting Torino in 2006.
"That was really my education into understanding what the Paralympics are all about and I wanted to get to that event and see it again," he said. "I'd also like to try to get to an alpine event and the sledge hockey, but it's going to be a busy few days with the Prince arriving."
The prince is none other than His Royal Highness The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex - the youngest son of the queen. Among other events, he will accompany the mayor on a walking tour of Whistler Village, the Whistler Athletes' Village and will attend the closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games. All told, he will take in 25 Paralympic events over five days.
In Vancouver, the prince will also present 100 young Canadians with their Gold Duke of Edinburgh Awards at a special ceremony at Point Grey School, recognizing student achievement in academics, athletics and community service.
Over the years, Prince Edward has been a patron and promoter of the British Paralympic Association, and has been an active supporter of adaptive sports. One of his goals is to bring more attention to adaptive sports.