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Mayor sees Olympic challenges first hand

Size of Summer Games almost overwhelming; O’Reilly relieved to be hosting Winter Games



After a whirlwind six-day trip to Athens, Mayor Hugh O’Reilly has returned somewhat relieved to be hosting a Winter Olympic Games in 2010, rather than a Summer Olympics.

The sheer size and scope of the summer games in Athens was staggering he said.

"What it makes you realize is how nicely sized the Winter Games still are and I think we all walked away going ‘boy, it’s nice that we’re doing a Winter Games,’" he said.

"It reassured me that we can do a great job."

During his visit, he spent time at the athletes village in Athens, which had room for over 10,000 athletes, complete with a dining hall that could seat 5,000.

"It’s just massive," he said.

By comparison, Whistler’s athlete village will be able to house roughly 2,000 athletes.

Likewise, in Athens there were 160,000 volunteers.

"Imagine trying to organize, feed, clothe, co-ordinate, educate, train, move (the volunteers) – it’s just a phenomenal feat," said O’Reilly.

Whistler, on the other hand, will need about 10-12,000 volunteers during the Games.

The point about the magnitude of the Summer Games was driven home during the opening ceremonies as 202 nations paraded athletes around the Olympic Stadium. That took more than two hours said O’Reilly, leaving only an hour for the actual showmanship of the opening ceremonies.

The opening ceremony in Salt Lake City, home of the 2002 Winter Games, allowed much more time for the actual celebrations because fewer countries participate in the Winter Games.

The numerous challenges of putting on an event of this magnitude were also apparent, said O’Reilly.

"The first sort of real evidence of the challenges coming with the Games was the unloading of the Olympic Stadium after the opening ceremonies and trying to move all those people out," he said.

The organizing committee in Athens had designed a good system he explained whereby 10 buses would load up right away, followed by another fleet of 10 buses and so on.

But there were no corals and spectators weren’t about to voluntarily organize themselves into ordered line-ups.

And so, everyone stormed the first bus and it couldn’t move.

O’Reilly called it "organized chaos."

"We got home, it just took longer than it probably had to," he added.

Another challenge was the language barrier.

A phone call to reserve a car took the mayor more than 15 minutes.

The girl taking the reservation had a hard time even understanding his name.

"Well, it’s Greek to her," joked O’Reilly.