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Paralympics ‘life changing experience’

Mayor, councillors share initial impressions

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Watching the Paralympics first hand was a "life changing experience" for the members of Whistler council who were in Torino last week.

And four years from now Whistlerites will be able to experience it themselves first hand when the Paralympic Games come to town.

"I think you almost have to experience it personally," said Mayor Ken Melamed as he tried to sum up his whirlwind visit in a few short sentences.

Councillors Bob Lorriman and Gord McKeever agreed with the sentiment.

They were part of a delegation of elected officials and municipal staff who were in Torino for the Paralympics.

What the mayor found during this visit was much different from his experience there during the Olympics in February.

The Paralympics are much more relaxed and informal and it was smaller and much less "political" than the first event.

For example, Melamed said he went through just one "mag and bag" – the security detectors at the entrance to the events – during his entire Paralympic visit. That compares to at least five mag and bag’s each day during the Olympics.

But council members were not without their criticisms too.

Lorriman recounted the speeches at the closing ceremonies where the crowd booed the media. Many, he said, were critical of the media’s spotty coverage of the entire event.

"Hopefully the media will realize that they missed the boat in Torino," said Lorriman.

Melamed reiterated this feeling among some, that the events should have been televised live in Canada. That’s one of Whistler’s goals for 2010 he said; they hope to prevail upon CTV, who won the rights to broadcast the Games in Canada for 2010, to bring live coverage of the Paralympics in Whistler to the rest of the country.

That goal goes hand in hand with another lesson learned from the Torino Paralympics – that not a lot of people know Whistler will be home to all the Paralympic events, making it one of the most compact Paralympics in history.

Melamed said there was a general unawareness of Whistler’s connection to the Paralympics, with many people in Torino talking about attending the events in Vancouver.

"We have got a lot of work to do to get that message out," said the mayor.

The community will get the chance to learn more about the Paralympic and Olympic experiences at a community meeting next month. The date has not yet been set. It is expected that there will be information from municipal delegates, both staff and elected officials, as well as Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb representatives.

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