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  • The View from Here: London & Sochi Lessons


    Ed Hula in Vancouver
    Sochi and London organizers tell us it’s too early to glean lessons from the experience of the Vancouver Olympics, but we have some ideas for them to think about.

    Don’t underestimate.

    For the past week, VANOC has blamed some glitches on underestimates. Whether the wave of Vancouverites eager to see the Olympic cauldron or the muddy conditions at the Cypress snowboard venue that led to cancellation of general admission tickets, VANOC says it could not foresee problems until they became an issue.

    Fortunately, VANOC has managed to respond with solutions before reaching peril.

    The burgeoning crowds in Vancouver (so far handled without serious incident) are a sure signal that crowd control might be one of the potential issues London would be careful to manage ahead of time.

    A metropolitan area five times the size of Vancouver means there are enough Londoners to choke the city in pedestrian gridlock in 2012. Tube capacity – often maxed-out for daily commutes – will be stressed as never before.

    For Sochi, the 2014 Olympic theater is spread among three stages. Two of them -- the venue cluster for ice sports and the venue cluster for snow events -- are relatively close together. But the resort city of Sochi itself, with hotels, restaurants and other diversions, is 20 to 30 minutes north of the Olympic sites. A new bypass road will make the journey quicker by rubber-tired vehicle and a swift train runs to the site.

    What Sochi cannot underestimate is the need for these transit links to work without a hitch. Unlike Vancouver, walking won’t be an option should the bus be missed or the trains are delayed. And slow-moving transit will
    The Olympic Flame in the cauldron in Vancouver. (Getty Images)
    test the patience of media and spectators. That would be an inauspicious debut for Sochi, which hopes to impress as a new travel destination.

    We like the seemingly more relaxed security routine for Vancouver media that makes entry to Olympic venues a pleasure. Random screenings for reporters means no lines to get in, a liberating experience that we hope London and Sochi can emulate.

    The economic downturn seems to have hit Vancouver hard when it comes to decorating the city in the so-called “look of the Games”. Street pole banners are tiny and often inconspicuous, while building wraps simply do not exist. The feel that the Olympics are taking place is confined to areas where events are being held, which are also the only locations where the look of Vancouver takes hold.

    London and Sochi, with more ground to cover than Vancouver, have some thinking to do about how to give their locales an Olympic feel without spending more on banners than sport.

    But for what Vancouver may lack in graphic display, the people of the city and the throngs from around the world are creating a buzz that’s sometimes been missing from recent Games. London and Sochi, we hope, will be people’s Games, too.

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    Written by Ed Hula in Vancouver.

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