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Sea to Sky well represented at Sochi Olympic Games

Residents attend for sport, pleasure and activism

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The Sea to Sky will be well represented at the Sochi Olympics next month, with local residents attending the Games for both business and pleasure.

Former Canadian national ski jump team member Tommy Thompson will be attending as Canada's chief of forerunners, a role he served during the 2010 Games as well. Forerunners are typically skilled ski jumpers that did not make the national team, but still travel to the Games in order to test jumps before official Olympic competition begins. It's a role Thompson is familiar with, having served as a forerunner at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.

"Forerunners are guys that'll test the jumps to make sure their safe," Thompson said. "I have to communicate with the jury from the competitions to decide how many forerunners (are needed), and say, if there's a TV commercial or it's sunny or it's windy, they'll have delays and communicate with me to send forerunners to make sure it's fair for the next competitor."

Beyond his national team duties, however, Thompson plans to take in a few other popular Olympic events, he said, like the men's Super G and men's hockey.

Understanding the commitment and focus required to make it to the top tier of amateur sports, Thompson said he doesn't expect the controversy surrounding this year's Games in Russia to have much of an impact on the athletes themselves, although first-time Olympians might not be able to fight the distractions.

"The athletes that are really focused, it shouldn't really bother them, but some of the ones that are there for their first Olympics might get side-tracked a little bit with everything going on," he said.

One Pemberton local who is well acquainted with some of the controversy leading up to Sochi is Maureen Douglas, who previously served as the director of community relations for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC), and worked as a consultant for Sochi and the upcoming Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Douglas was also VANOC's liaison to Whistler Pride House and will be a part of the delegation Vancouver sends to Sochi, along with openly gay city councillor Tim Stevenson. The group will travel to Russia the week before the Games begin in order to meet with IOC officials to request that LGBTQ rights be enshrined in the Olympic Charter and that host cities be permitted to open a Pride House if the local gay community wants it.

Russia introduced ambiguously-worded anti-gay legislation this summer that makes it illegal to express pro-gay views in the country, underlining the need more than ever to include gay rights in the charter, Douglas said, which includes an anti-discrimination clause that does not make mention of the LGBTQ community.

"It's very important for young athletes to see that a minority they belong to has been recognized in those words, because in situations like this, words matter," she said. "Russia right now is a great example of why words matter, because both the language in the Olympic Charter and some of the language in the (anti-gay) Russian law that is used has created an exceptionally vague situation."

Douglas said the Vancouver delegation has even put in a request to meet with Russian Olympic officials and the mayor of Sochi in advance of the opening ceremonies.

A Whistler resident heading to Sochi, albeit for much different reasons, is surgeon Maureen Harriman, who will be attending the Games as a spectator with her sister and friend.

Harriman is a former national team rower who competed at the world championship level, and is looking forward to rooting on Canadian freeskier Marielle Thompson in her pursuit of gold as well as supporting family friend and snowboarder Caroline Calvé.

Harriman also has tickets for the women's hockey gold medal game, biathlon, slalom and speed skating.

"We're really excited to be able to support some of our athletes and I'm hoping they all have an excellent Games," Harriman said. "I know how hard everyone's worked to get there and I'm just really happy to be a part of it even if it's just as an observer."

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