Corrects to Vancouver Island from Victoria Island in 15th paragraph
By Steve Keating
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canadians put aside the doom and gloom of a global economic crisis to celebrate the one-year countdown to the 2010 Winter Olympics on Thursday, inviting the world to Vancouver next February.
There was a noticeable buzz in the Olympic city as Vancouverites were hit with the reality that the Winter Games they had dreamt of for nearly a decade are now just months away.
For most Canadians, particularly those in the country’s western most province, the 2010 Olympics had become little more than a steady stream of grim headlines due to surging costs.
But as the clock ticked down to 364 days, it was time to think about the medals to be won and not how much they will cost.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge, speaking from a podium at the Richmond speed skating oval that is due to become the Olympics signature venue, extended the official invitation calling on athletes to assemble in Vancouver.
Each invitation sent to National Olympic Committees will go out with an iconic Hudson Bay blanket.
”Today we are dispatching the invitations to the 21st Olympic Winter Games, the countdown is beginning,“ Rogge told an invitation-only audience. ”For athletes around the world the chance to compete next year in Vancouver will be their goal, the culmination of a lifetime’s ambition.
“I wish them all good luck and on behalf of the International Olympic Committee I invite them to participate in the 21st Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver one year from now.”
In a much less formal manner, Canadians from Newfoundland to Victoria extended their own invitations with a series of celebrations to mark the milestone.
On Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the Peace Tower bells rang as the Olympic flag was raised.
In St. John‘s, Newfoundland, musicians played a symphony from the boats in the harbor while at the other end of the country, nearly four time zones away in Whistler, venue for the alpine skiing and sliding events, there was dancing and music in village square.
The day began with the unveiling of the Olympic torch at the Olympic resort under a light snow and overcast skies.
The sleek aluminum and white stainless steel torch, branded with the 2010 Games Inukshuk logo and a red maple leaf, was designed to invoke images of the lines carved into the snow by skiers and will be the closest connection most Canadians will have to the Olympics.
An ambitious 45,000 km relay that Vancouver Organizing Committee CEO John Furlong says will take the Olympic flame past the doorstep of almost every Canadian, will wind its way through each of the nation’s province and territory.
The torch will begin its journey on October 30 at Mile Zero of the Trans-Canada Highway on Vancouver Island and work its way north to Alert on Ellesmere Island, the world’s northernmost settlement, before twisting its way back to Vancouver on February 12 for the Winter Games’ first ever indoor opening ceremonies.
While there were a number of celebrations to mark the countdown, surprisingly there were no big public events held in Vancouver.
VANOC had delayed announcing the location of Thursday’s ceremony in a bid to keep anti-Games activists from disrupting the event, a concern which at least to some extent is said to
have discouraged the organizers from staging a large public event.
Protesters, however, planned an anti-Olympic torchlight parade through the drug-infested downtown eastside, one of Canada’s most destitute neighborhoods located just blocks away from the domed stadium where the opening ceremonies will be held.
“We are seeing increasing dissatisfaction to the 2010 Olympics because it is more evident to Vancouverites that the Games are not bringing prosperity,” Gord Hill of the Olympic Resistance Network said in a statement.
“While Olympic corporate sponsors are getting bailed out with taxpayer dollars, more people are becoming homeless.”
Editing by N.Ananthanarayanan