Whistler Day 1

I’ve decided to keep you all in the loop on my Olympic experience with a daily (roughly) update.

Olympic excitement began before even landing in Canada. Our plane was full of Olympians. Since the flight was only 2/3 full, that means a big percentage of the passengers were among the best athletes in the world. The flight attendants were beside themselves: it was, “Ladies and gentlemen, we wish you a good flight – and especially to the Olympians we have on board today. We wish you all a great flight.” Two more times during the flight the flight she extended a special welcome and good luck to the skiers, ski jumpers and ice skaters on board.

The front closet usually reserved for first class passengers was stuffed with fat black garment bags holding evidently irreplaceable ski jumping suits. Two ski jumpers, who as one might expect were  medium-height and lanky, sat across the aisle from me. Someone who looked like a coach was in front.

Walking to immigration a 6’2″ buff Nordic-type (Nordic as in blond hair; not as in cross-country skiing) was making a deal with the 5′ stylish Asian girl next to him: he’d try a 360 on ice skates (actually I think he said he could pull that off already) if she would try skiing. He also said many of his Canadian friends dated ice skaters… was he suggesting a multi-sport romance?

The minute you land it’s all Olympics. The airport is loaded with volunteers clad head to toe in that unfortunate, but easily recognizable, bright baby blue hue of the volunteer uniform. I asked a few of them if they were having fun yet (how fun can standing at an airport giving info to hapless travelers be?) and the answer was an unequivocal yes! It’s the excitement of being part of such a big event.

Ostensibly the Vacouver 2010 organizers deliberately eschewed flashy, pompous style in favor of efficiency. They wanted to be the greenest Olympics yet, and Canadians aren’t the flashy type anyway. The Olympics have so far come in on time and on budget; and even the pesky problem of global warming bringing 50 degree F weather and rain to Cypress Mountain (a local resort just outside Vancouver where the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events will be held) has been dealt with by laying down straw and helicoptering in pristine white snow from higher elevations. Canada wants to show the world it can pull off the Olympics without a hitch.

They would also like a gold medal, something that has eluded them in the two previous Olympics they’ve hosted. The spectacular crash last November of the downhill skiing world champion John Kucera – who did a double summersault before snapping his tibia and getting helicoptered to a hospital to have a metal bar put in his leg – was a crushing blow to a Canadian alpine (downhill, not cross-country, skiing) team that has by now lost 6 skiers to injury this season. Fortunately a Whistler local, Manuel Osborne-Paradis (Manny) has a good chance of earning a medal in the Men’s Downhill, which will be the opening medal event of the Winter Games. Even if he doesn’t get gold, having the Canadian flag on the podium for a silver or bronze would be a nice start for Canada.

I’m on the bus from the Vancouver airport to Whistler. The sky is steel gray and the water is reflecting the low lying clouds. The view is nonetheless breathtaking, and locals must be proud that the rest of the world will soon grasp what a special place this is.

My fellow bus travelers include a US coast guard officer currently stationed in NY who was granted paid vacation to volunteer as a medical assistant for the sliding (bobsleigh, luge and skeleton) events; a 50-something year old from Calgary who is a passionate cross-country skier and is thrilled to be stationed on the field at the biathlon events; and a young chef from Alberta (but born on Vancouver Island) who will be a paid bus driver in Whistler. His dad signed up to drive buses and urged his son to come help, as more drivers were needed. He said Whistler is so crazy already that they’re actually gathering the Whistler drivers in Squamish. Housing is so short some are even staying in homes for the elderly! Maybe I’ll see him driving the bus I’ll be taking to my shifts every day.

OK that’s it for now.

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