Strolling through Whistler Village during the Olympics, hoofing it to the venues, coming together for dinner at night—it’s just like summer camp, except everyone here is thinner and better looking than me. Which makes it…fine, it’s just like summer camp.
It’s hard to be cynical here. The Winter Games are not a place for cynicism or, apparently, snow. They are a place for marvelling at the abilities of the human form, revelling in the power of the human spirit and testing the limits of the human credit card. Picture in your mind shelves crammed with Olympic knick-knacks, stacks of T-shirts and piles of stuffed mascots. This is what every Whistler retail outlet, and Jacques Rogge’s bedroom, looks like.
Mostly, though, the Winter Games are a place for passing through checkpoints. I’m telling you: if getting scanned, searched and body-wanded a few hundred times is your idea of fun, you owe it to yourself to spend a couple of weeks at an Olympics, or fly once to the United States.
Same goes for rule followers. There are a lot of really terrific rules here. An example: take Bus A to Shuttle B, through Checkpoint C to Secondary Shuttle D, exchange your current accreditation for a pass designated Level E-323/96, submit to metal detection and bag scan. Congratulations—you now have permission to pee. (Wait, you need to go No. 2? You should have taken Bus G to Checkpoint H!)
This isn’t to deny the need for security. We’ve all heard about the clashes down in Vancouver, where protesters smashed windows in an effort to make their point, which so far as anyone can discern is that they are capable of smashing windows. (In which case: point well made!) Whistler has not been immune from civil disobedience. I personally witnessed the terrifying beginnings of a violent uprising, but fortunately it was quelled when the sommelier returned to say they did have the 1978 vintage. Put your monocle back on, troublemaker.
There are some who doubt the raw power of the Olympics. To them I say: I have seen this power first-hand. I have seen how it can convince people to do things they’d never thought they’d do, like willingly attend the luge.
Don’t get me wrong: luge is a great sport to watch in person if you’re really into indistinguishable blurs. I took in a couple of runs of the men’s luge and those were some of the finest indistinguishable blurs I’ve seen since I consumed that industrial solvent. Standing alongside the sliding track, you can’t see the competitor’s face, can’t tell what he’s doing, can’t see the results of his efforts, can’t see his sled or see him or see anything (blurs excepted). But spectators bring bells! And they ring them! Ringing bells at the luge track is a tradition that dates back to when our forebears wanted to prove they’d seen the blur.
In fact, the power of the Olympics is so formidable that it placed before my eyes a creature I’d long believed to be mythical—the luge scalper. He was hanging around the gondola in Whistler Village, quietly saying to passersby: “Who needs tickets for the luge?” His name, he told me, was “Bryan with a y” and he was super-friendly until I told him I did not actually need any tickets to the luge.
Bryan walked away, and I followed behind. Some idiot trying to scalp tickets to the luge! This is going to be hilarious! Approximately 90 seconds later, Bryan sold his tickets to the luge.
I don’t mean to pick on luge. A lot of the Olympic events being held in Whistler are about as spectator-friendly as a shirtless Shaquille O’Neal. There’s a reason the Polish contingent in the stands at ski jump has gained notoriety for its uncanny ability to smuggle in, and quickly consume, tremendous amounts of vodka. Once you’ve seen from a great distance one madman hurl himself off a ramp while travelling at 80 km/h, you begin to think to yourself: this would be way better with tremendous amounts of vodka. Where’d those Polish guys get to?
Yet the crowds—always enthusiastic, always supportive, sometimes even sober—have made the events a blast. The sense of shared experience slows the speed of the blurs, reduces the distance of the specks. That, too, is the power of the Olympics.
Toward the bottom of Whistler Stroll, the winding path that serves as the village’s pedestrian main street, organizers erected a huge set of Olympic rings. It’s become a gathering place—and possibly the most photographed B.C. monument since Pamela Anderson’s chest.
Beneath the rings, a makeshift memorial has been made to Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian athlete who died hours before the Games opened. Most people take a moment to look at the flowers, plants and candles. Many pause. Some make the sign of the cross. Then they all turn and smile for the camera.