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World Cup trumps the Olympics

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After attending the Nordic World Cup Festival in Whistler this weekend, I've come to the conclusion that the World Cup events are far superior than the "holy" Games.

Whistler Olympic Park hosted the Nordic Combined and Cross-country skiing finals, in preparation for the 2010 Olympics.This was the first of nine World Cups to be held in Whistler.

While the World Cup events tend to be about the sport itself and the athletes, the Olympics are focused on attendance numbers and the exorbitant revenues generated by sponsorships and broadcast rights.

Several athletes have commented that they prefer the World Cup events because competitions take place in a relaxed environment, without all the hype, pressure and security that's comes with the Olympics. After all, the IOC is a master at over-hyping the Olympics, promoting them as the biggest, most important and patriotic sporting event of our lifetime.

VANOC reported that over 7,500 spectators attended the Nordic events in the Callaghan Valley. The event was broadcast live to an estimated 20 million viewers in Europe alone, and the media centre serviced over 130 local, national and international press and photographers.The event also employed a work force of 750 (600 volunteers and 150 VANOC staff).

At first, I was weary about attending the Nordic World Cup Festival. I wasn't in the mood to deal with crowds, security checkpoints and parking nightmares, but the entire experience was surprisingly hassle-free. I just drove in and parked metres from the ski jumping venue.

There was no visible security force. We walked to the ski jump, cross country and biathlon venues and mingled with visiting athletes from 21 different countries. Impressive snow sculptures were displayed alongside 10-feet high inukshuks.

It was great to see local caterers such as Whistler Cooks and North Arm Farms serving lunchtime fare and hot chocolate in the spectator tents. To be honest, I had been expecting an atmosphere dominated by corporate fast food. This was a great opportunity for Sea to Sky chefs to showcase locally grown food from the fertile Pemberton Valley. Tourists were able to interact with Sea to Sky residents and savour something uniquely "Whistler/Pemberton."

Whistler retailers and restaurants have every right to be worried about VANOC's proposed Temporary Commercial Use Permits (TCUPs) bylaw. The new bylaw would allow VANOC to erect temporary facilities and tents in choice locations, to capture as much of the attendee spending as possible.

Hopefully Whistler's councillors will listen to the community when they vote on the TCUP bylaw on Jan. 27. If not, the chances of spectators experiencing anything uniquely "Whistler" during the Olympics will be close to nil.

McDonald's was awarded exclusive marketing rights in the restaurant and food service category for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy; the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China; the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada; and the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The Nordic World Cup was a successful event on all fronts. A perfect "dry run" for February 2010. It was a great family experience and the best part - it was free. A far cry from the thousands of dollars that people are paying for the Olympic tickets.

Before long, Vancouver and Whistler residents will begin to see the mobility restrictions that a $1 billion security budget involves. Unfortunately, VANOC's excess security measures will probably lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. There's no chance that spectators will be able to drive their own vehicles into the Callaghan during the Olympics or walk where they please.

Enjoy the "free" World Cup events if you're in the Whistler area. A list of all World Cup events is at http://www.whistler.com/world_cups.


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