Vancouver Gears Up for Olympic Games

November 2, 2009  
Filed under Travel

By Jim Farber, CNS

Tick. Tick. Tick.

In the heart of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, the brightly illuminated Olympic clock is counting down, marking the seconds, minutes and hours before the start of the XXI Winter Olympics, Feb. 12, 2010. Tourists line up to have their photos snapped in front of it — including one couple in their wedding attire. Everywhere you look Olympic banners wave in the breeze, shop windows sport cuddly Olympic mascots and stores offer displays of Olympic pins, an ever-popular collectible and trading item. Anticipation for the games is growing.

This will be the third time Canada has hosted the Olympics. The summer games were held in Montreal in 1976, and in 1988 Calgary was home to the winter games.

The upcoming competition (which runs through Feb. 28) will be spread out over three locations. The opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the ice sports (including women’s hockey for the first time) will be held in Vancouver.

The Nordic events will showcase cross-country skiers and high-flying ski jumpers competing in the Callaghan Valley to the west of Whistler, a 90-minute drive north from Vancouver. The Alpine and sliding events will propel their way down the slopes and ultrafast track of the new Sliding Centre surrounding the picturesque mountain resort of Whistler.

Ride the chairlift to the very top of Whistler Mountain and you’ll encounter “Ilanaaq,” the Olympic symbol — a traditional stone figure known as an Inukshuk. These figures are just one way in which the games are paying respect to Canada’s “first nations.” And in the Inukitut language, “Ilanaaq” means “friend.” Like the Olympic clock, Ilanaaq has become a favorite of tourists who love to pose beneath his great out-stretched stony arms.

The ideally suited town of Whistler has been hoping to host a Winter Olympics for a long time. Its ski slopes are challenging, its accommodations are plentiful, the village offers a wide variety of eateries and watering holes, and the town is readily accessible by both road and rail.

The only thing that has locals concerned is whether February will find Whistler’s mountains covered with a sufficient quantity of snow. Climate change has affected the region, and plans are already in the works to truck snow into the region if necessary.

Snowfall, however, will not be an issue for the new Sliding Centre. This elegant concrete masterpiece of gracefully descending curves will provide a perfect setting for the heart-stopping bobsleigh, skeleton and luge events.

On the day I toured the facility, the sun had turned the infield into a dusky brown patch of weeds. But come February, I was assured by my enthusiastic guide, the weeds will be replaced by a capacity crowd of cheering onlookers and daredevil competitors.

The Whistler Sliding Centre is one of two major venues created specifically for the games. The other is the Richmond Olympic Oval, located on a 32-acre site just south of Vancouver. This ultramodern structure, which received the Award of Excellence for Architectural Innovation from the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada, will be home to the long-track speed-skating events.

The arena is also a remarkable example of how to make sweet lemonade from the sourest of lemons. Its great wooden ceiling is entirely constructed from trees that were destroyed as a result of Canada’s bark beetle infestation.

The structure, which officially opened Dec. 12, 2008, will provide seating for 8,000 spectators, and according to Olympic Oval spokesman Aran Kay is large enough to fit four jetliners — wingtip to wingtip — on its main floor.

More than 8o nations are expected to take part in the games. And by the time the torch arrives, Vancouver and Whistler will be decked out and ready to receive the onslaught of tourists, Olympic organizers, corporate sponsors, officials, coaches and athletes.

Let the games begin!


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