As Whistler, B.C. prepares to celebrate its one-year Olympic anniversary this weekend, the mood in the resort is less than celebratory, despite assurances from the Resort Municipality of Whistler that, "it's time to re-live the magic and embrace the Olympic and Paralympic spirit."
Last year, Whistler couldn't get enough of the world's media, and now it wishes that most of the camera crews would go home, especially in light of the sled dog massacre and VANOC's luge track irregularities.
It doesn't help that hotel room nights are down, luxury real estate has taken a downward spiral, retail stores are closing and Whistler has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Yes, we had a big party, we had fun and Canada even won 14 gold medals, but how long do we keep celebrating these Games? When can we finally retire the Olympic memorabilia and get rid of those red mittens?
The Olympic party in Whistler is expected to cost taxpayers $100,000, but it all comes down to optics. Do we really need another party to reminisce about the good times we had, while our public library is closed 52 days a year due to a $54,000 shortfall and our public transit has been slashed? Wouldn't our efforts be better spent on planning for a post-Olympic transition, rather than reliving the past?
Will Sochi deliver on the 2014 Games?
While residents and tourists celebrate those 'magical' Olympic memories at the Whistler Winter Arts Festival: Celebrate Live from Feb. 11 to 13, 2011, I'm thinking ahead to 2014.
There's a good chance that Sochi, Russia will be unable to fulfill its obligations to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. I first wrote about this idea on Feb. 18, 2010 and those same doubts still persist.
If this scenario materializes, will Whistler and Vancouver have to host the Olympics for a second consecutive time? While it sounds impossible, stranger things have happened. I am not reassured by the recent newspaper headlines like "IOC gives cautious thumbs up on Sochi 2014."
Fact or rumour?
Members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were in Whistler in early January meeting with local officials to discuss Whistler hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics. Was the Russian oligarch and main shareholder in the metals firm OAO Norlisk Nickel, Vladimir Potanin, shopping around in Whistler last June, with the idea of buying Whistler Blackcomb? Potanin is also the president of the company developing the Rosa Khutor resort, host of the alpine events during the 2014 Olympics.
Saying that the Olympic preparations are falling short in Sochi is an understatement. Sochi's Games have suffered rampant corruption, construction delays, and the expulsion of foreign journalists and environmental activists.
I'm sure the IOC is shopping the idea around to Salt Lake City, Pyeongchang and/or Salzburg. No country has ever hosted the Winter Olympic Games consecutively. Innsbruck came close when it hosted the 1964 Games and was chosen in 1973 to host the Winter Olympics, after Denver residents passed a vote to decline hosting the Games.
The 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece were the first games in which the IOC took out cancellation insurance. Chances are, the IOC is contemplating the same for Sochi, if it hasn't done so already.
It will take more than Putin's pride or military pride for Russia to fulfill its requirements and ensure a safe Olympic Games. All the Sochi Olympic venues need to be built from scratch -- there are no sliding tracks, no arenas or no speed-skating ovals.
Just last week, Chief Executive Taimuraz Bolloyev resigned, marking the sudden departure of Russia's fourth Olympic construction chief in three years. This has sparked investor concerns about swirling corruption and chaos at Olimpstroi, the state corporation charged with readying Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Sochi is also located in a subtropical climate, in close proximity to the volatile North Caucasus and Chechnyan regions. Combine that with the fact that 2014 marks the 150th commemorative year of the Circassian Genocide in the region, and you have the perfect mix for another boycott and a possible terrorist attack during the Games. Many athletes are already thinking twice about risking their lives to compete in Russia.
According to NoSochi2014.com, the World Wildlife Fund Russia and Greenpeace Russia resigned from the Games' advisory committee last year and recently boycotted a visit of UN Environment Program officials who were to inspect the progress, saying "We do not want to be part of a green PR for the Olympic projects."
Sounds like Whistler all over again.
Whistler Olympic venues collecting dust
Reactions have been mixed from Whistler residents I have spoken to. While some residents cringe at the thought of hosting another Olympics in three years' time, others think it would be a great idea.
Despite empty promises from VANOC, many of Whistler's Olympic legacy venues are sitting idle, so we might as well put them to use. The Whistler Olympic Park reopened for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in mid-November but has no elite cross-country, biathlon or ski jumping events scheduled. The Dave Murray Downhill course in Whstler Creekside was decommissioned last March and won't host another downhill race.
Earlier this week, Bob McKeown of the Fifth Estate reported that, "unofficially the Whistler (Sliding Centre) has been decommissioned until changes are made to the track -- whatever they might be. There are no luge World Cups scheduled until 2012."
Opponents of the sliding sports predicted that the $117-million Whistler Sliding Centre would become the 'white elephant' of the 2010 games. The track is kept cool with a massive ammonia cooling system that uses a huge amount of energy and according to Whistler's environmental group, AWARE, "each month it uses enough energy to power 83 homes and used 350 metric tonnes of concrete to construct."
When Whistler hosted the FIBT World Cup last November, tickets were just $10, yet half of the seats were filled. At present, the sliding centre seems to keep busy with school group outings and guided tours for Whistler's tourists.
According to the Toronto Sun, "this past summer, Canada's top bobsleigh driver, Lyndon Rush, just laughed when he was asked when he expected to get a run in on the track in Sochi. In fact, it's a running joke in the sliding community that the competition may need to be held elsewhere."
Where will we put the 2014 Athletes Village?
While we have all the necessary venues in Whistler, there's the unresolved issue of where to put the new Athletes Village, IF we host the 2014 games.
Drive 10 minutes south of Whistler to the Callaghan Valley and you have the perfect places to build the new permanent (or temporary) Athletes Village. The "legacy" Nordic trails at Whistler Olympic Park are fully serviced to accommodate a new four-season resort and there's even a new sewage treatment facility built by EPCOR for the 2010 Games.
This new project could stimulate the economy and out all the unemployed construction workers back at work. Those of us that didn't rent our homes out for exorbitant amounts, would be savvier next time round.
Bringing the Games back to Whistler and Vancouver could appease some environmentalists, who believe that the Games should be hosted in one place to minimize the overall negative impacts. I hope we don't end up destroying sensitive areas on two continents, since the rare ecosystems in Sochi area have already been destroyed.
Finally, bringing the Olympics back to Whistler might be a way for B.C. taxpayers to recoup their billion-dollar investment, but I don't think we're in the mood to waste another billion dollars on security costs, unless the Russians were paying the bill.
The IOC has likely has until January 2012 before moving to Plan B and securing a back-up host city.
Many Whistler residents hope that the final decision will be determined by a vote or a community-wide referendum.
If you're in Whistler this weekend, drop by for some free cake at the Olympic Celebration Plaza, which coincidentally was constructed on Whistler's last remaining urban forest.
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