As Beijing celebrates the end of the Summer Paralympic Games Whistler is celebrating the start of the final countdown to the 2010 Winter Paralympics.
The milestone was marked with a well-attended village celebration Tuesday which included cake, music by 2008 Canadian Indie Awards nominee Justin Hines, appearances by the Olympic mascots, Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and dignitaries.
“We are next in line to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the excitement is building,” said Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed.
The Paralympics have already acted as a catalyst to make Whistler more accessible. Around town construction can be seen as wheelchair ramps are put in place. The athletes’ village, which will become employee restricted housing after the Games, also includes units that are universally accessible, and buses in the new fleet will be equipped for wheelchairs.
Indeed the resort sees the publicity surrounding the Paralympics as a key platform for getting the message out to the world that Whistler is a great place to train as an athlete with a disability or vacation.
“This will get us on the global radar screen of disabled tourism,” said Melamed.
Whistler will host all the Paralympic events except wheelchair curling and ice-sledge hockey, both of which will be held in Vancouver. About 1,350 athletes and officials are expected to attend from more than 40 countries. There are five sports and disciplines and 60 medal events.
Whistler is also the first mountain host to hold the closing ceremonies for the Paralympics. The opening ceremonies will be held at B.C Place in Vancouver. Tickets will go on sale in May, with 85 per cent of all individual tickets priced at $20 or less.
Olympic organizers are now moving into the operational side of hosting the Games and taking lessons learned in Beijing to heart.
Top of the list, said Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee CEO John Furlong, is getting the events on television and into the homes of people in Canada and elsewhere, raising awareness of who Canada’s Paralympians are, and explaining how the sports work.
“I think the one area where the Paralympic movement still needs one or two nudges forward is on organizing themselves so that the events are television ready,” said Furlong, who awarded medals to 2008 Paralympic Judo competitors in Beijing.
“These events are infinitely more meaningful if they are seen on TV.
“What you are looking at here are men and women with great skills and talent who have overcome extraordinary adversity and every one of them represents a remarkable story and those stories need to get told.