Vancouver hits one month countdown with shrug, caution

By Steve Keating

"It's all moving very fast," VANOC chief John Furlong told reporters. "We were reminding ourselves that although we have been working on this since the mid-90s we still really haven't done anything yet.

"The biggest thing is we are in a period of time where the work we are doing today, is work we couldn't do until now and there is a lot of it.

"People are excited, they sort of feel we are almost home but we're not home, we have three or four weeks of significant work to do."

A good part of that time will be spent dressing up the Olympic city, which so far has offered few hints that one of the world's biggest sporting events is on its way.

The colorful banners and billboards designed to help generate an Olympic buzz have yet to appear, leaving Vancouverites as blasé as the dreary weather about the Games.

The mood was much the same in Whistler, the Olympic venue for alpine skiing, cross-country and sliding events.

Watching workmen take down Christmas decorations, American tourist Howard Mair said that until two days ago he would not have known the Olympics were going to happen.

Furlong, however, promised that Vancouver and Whistler would have the look and feel of an Olympic host, and deliver a Winter Games Canadians will be proud of.

"The enthusiasm is in great shape," assured Furlong. "We were never going to apply the look of the Games until the last minute because the last thing we need is a situation that looks tired and worn.

"What we're trying to do is to make sure the look that is applied is as fresh and as beautiful as it can be.

"The venues look great, they will look spectacular when the look is applied."

Despite a noticeable lack of excitement, there are undeniable signs that the Olympics are fast approaching.

DRIVING RESTRICTIONS

Security fencing continues to spring up around downtown venues while local officials have cautioned residents to prepare for the implementation of driving restrictions what will be part of the Games transportation plan.

Olympic organizers announced more road closures on Tuesday sparking fears of gridlock and long queues for public transport.

City officials have pleaded with residents who live or work in the downtown core where many of the events will be staged, to walk, bike or use public transit during the Games.

The only way for most spectators to reach events in Whistler will be on the Olympic Bus Network but only 40 percent of ticket holders have so far purchased seats leaving the potential for transportation chaos.

"If people arrive at the park-and-ride near the end of the departure times, we're just not going to be able to get them to the venue on time and through security," warned VANOC vice-president Terry Wright.

"We don't want people to be disappointed."

The unseasonably warm temperatures and heavy rains that have lashed Vancouver this week have also reminded organizers of the type of havoc Mother Nature is capable of inflicting on a Winter Games.

The warm weather front, known by locals as a "Pineapple Express," has helped pin-point potential trouble areas, forcing the closure of Cypress Mountain, venue for snowboarding and freestyle skiing events.

"Weather has always been at the forefront of our planning," said Tim Gayda, VANOC's vice president of sport. "We're doing everything we can to ensure that, even if this warm weather stays around, we have enough snow at Cypress Mountain to do what we need to do.

"From a field of play perspective we are ecstatic with where things are at in Whistler but obviously we have our work to do up in Cypress."

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)