After sadness, Games get going in Whistler

By Simon Evans

WHISTLER (Reuters) - It was not the first day organizers were hoping for but fans in the Winter Games's mountain venue were doing their best to overcome their sadness and enter the Olympic spirit on Saturday.

Following the death of Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili at Whistler's luge course on Friday, fans gathered outside the resort's pricey bars and cafes to take in the atmosphere and catch the ski jump action on screens dotted across the town.

An ad-hoc floral tribute to the 21-year-old Georgian next to the Olympic rings display was being ignored by visitors who posed for photographs in front of the now extinguished memorial candles, oblivious to the photograph of the late luger.

Many of the fans had intended to be at the Alpine ski course just down the road in Whistler Creekside to watch the men's downhill but that event, along with Sunday's women's super combined, was postponed.

The mild weather and frequent rain have combined to turn the course into a soft and slushy slide and leave many fans frustrated.

"Those were unfortunate events but I think the energy here is very positive and we are off to a great start," said Whistler resident Darryl Desjardins, who was sure that colder weather would resolve the problems at the Alpine venue.

LARGE CROWD

The giant screen in the central Village Square attracted a large crowd of fans, many of whom had intended to be closer to the action.

"Unfortunately, a few things have not gone according to plan. It's frustrating with tickets of course and it's the premier event that we were looking forward to seeing," said Andra Carpino who had traveled with her family from Oakville, Ontario but will be on her way home when the race is run on Monday.

"We are going to see luge in the evening but I don't know what the feeling will be there. You know it won't be the same really -- you can only cheer so loudly at any event where a tragedy has happened," she said.

With the Athletes Village just a few miles down the road, Carpino said that there were clearly many people who had been touched by the tragedy.

"The crowd in Vancouver seemed very enthusiastic (at the Opening Ceremony) but maybe it is a little bit more subdued here -- there are people affected directly, people involved in the sport.

"All the team mates, the sliders they will know each other and it is tough. We were really looking forward to the luge but my little daughter was very upset by what happened and she is not sure what to expect now,"

But sensitivity to the tragedy has not stopped fans from getting into the Olympic spirit.

U.S. downhiller Marco Sullivan has an active fan club and his supporters from Squaw Valley, California, kitted out in their 'Go Marco' green hats, were staying around for the rescheduled race.

"We wouldn't miss it, he's going to win gold," said fan club member Liz Kenny.

"We thought it would be a bit more crowded here, the mood was a little sad last night but I think the Olympic spirit is back today," she said.

There is an international flavor around the town, with Russian fans splashing out on team clothing, Swiss and Germans enjoying a mid-morning beer and one bar declaring itself the home of the Jamaican bobsleigh team.

The multinational mood was increased by the presence of ticket touts from England, although the downhill postponement had seriously cut into their potential profits.

"Instead of buying tickets, people are trying to get rid of them. But that's the way it goes," said one trader from Essex.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)