I had a familiar feeling this morning as the Paralympic flame looped its way around the downtown core during its 24 hour relay. Pedestrian thoroughfares, tents, displays, torchbearers, and cheerful passersby wearing red mittens. The Vancouver 2010 Paralympics Games kick off tonight with the Opening Ceremony at BC Place and the excitement among the Canadian Paralympic Committee members and their athletes is palpable.
This morning I sat in on a press conference with the Canadian Paralympic Committee as they welcomed media to the very first Paralympic Games hosted on Canadian soil. Honorable Gary Lunn, Minister of State for Sport, Blair McIntosh, Team Canada Chef de Mission, Carla Qualtrough, CPC President and Henry Storgaard, CPC Chief Executive Officer were all in attendance.
“The hype has taken our athletes by storm,” said Chef de Mission, Blair McIntosh. The athletes were welcomed at the airport, honored at a pep rally in Whistler, and now they’ll get to march into BC Place Stadium as representative of excellence in sport for their country.
“The team is the strongest and biggest ever,” McIntosh added saying that the Canadian Paralympic Committee is projecting that Canada will finish within the top 3 countries in medal standings. Looking at the athletes’ achievements thus far, the goal doesn’t seem that far off at all. We have the defending gold medal champion Sledge Hockey team, the defending gold medal Wheelchair Curling team, a ParaAlpine team that’s had 33 trips to the podium before, and even a ParaNordic athlete who is competing in her 9th Paralympics.
Canadian Paralympic Committee CEO Henry Storgaard commented on the funding they have recently received. In past years the CPC’s budget has been about $1million – $1.8million a year to operate, which includes transportation, training, support, and research.
The Paralympics did benefit from the Own the Podium program but the biggest boost was announced a week ago in the Federal Budget. Ottawa pledged $10million over two years to the Canadian Paralympic Committee. “This establishes a new era,” said Storgarrd, calling the funding “epic”. Members of the CPC were almost moved to tears and two even hopped up to hug Minister Gary Lunn.
Back downtown the 24 hour relay burns on with laps through Robson Square. The torchbearers are hanging out awaiting their turn to carry the flame while public are welcome to chit chat and get photos. When the flame is passed, torchbearers are being encouraged to pose for photos with those in the crowd.
If you have some time today, head down to Robson (between Bute and Howe) to spot a torchbearer and learn their story. As I walked home I watched the flame be passed and those who had been hanging out with the receiving torchbearer cheered him on as he got his turn. There is a much more approachable atmosphere with this relay compared to the Olympics.
“Our athletes will shine in front of a hometown crowd,” said Carla Qualtrough at the press conference. I for one can’t wait to witness these amazing feats while I enjoy this unbeatable and everlasting Olympic and Paralympic feeling.
Although CTV stated that it will not be showing live coverage of the Opening Ceremony tonight, they have decided to air it live for residents of BC only. Tomorrow before Sledge Hockey kicks off as a part of their 57 hours of coverage, they will broadcast the Opening Ceremony for the rest of the country (and once again in BC).
For more information about transportation, free events, Robson Square attractions, pavilions, concerts and more, check out my Vancouver 2010 Paralympics Guide.