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Vancouver is all hyped up for the Olympics letdown

I've been hanging out in Vancouver recently, where the subject of the 2010 Winter Olympics is never too far from hand.

I've been hanging out in Vancouver recently, where the subject of the 2010 Winter Olympics is never too far from hand.

Last week, for example, it was the announcement of who didn't get what in the ticket lottery, part of a Byzantine system that, not surprisingly, nobody seems to understand or approve.

Doesn't matter, though. Pants-wetting Olympic excitement continues to run high.

As a Calgarian who did everything short of donning the Peyto-blue volunteer jacket in 1988, however, I feel it is my duty to inform British Columbians what they might reasonably expect from their 17 days under the sporting spotlight (if not under the sun; it will still be, after all, February on the wet coast).

Specifically, I'm advising them to downgrade their lofty expectations of the Olympian pomp and grandeur to come.

Because, in spite of the gauzey memories Calgarians may cherish, the Winter Olympics are just not that big a deal.

Man, do Vancouverites not want to hear that.

Do the math, I tell them. Officials and athletes together make up less than 2,500 souls.

Figure about two family members per athlete, a similar handful of corporate attendees, plus the several hundred fans who actually follow those sports in odd-numbered years.

We are thus talking about an event whose magnitude falls somewhere between the Mr. Vancouver Leather competition and the PNE.

That hasn't stopped local mandarins from using 2010 as a licence to pour concrete, a common Games-related affliction which, in retrospect, Calgary did a good job resisting.

Salt Lake City, on the other hand, tore up a perfectly good interstate highway for nearly a decade, apparently believing that Idahoans and Nevadans were about to get hot for nordic combined.

Rest assured, they did not.

On B.C.'s way to dropping $ 1.7 billion, it's looking more and more like the sustainable athlete's village featuring low-cost housing will instead morph into private-sector luxury condos subsidized by taxpayers to the tune of $100 million.

Then there's the attendance problem.

While thousands have clamoured for and even obtained tickets, how many will actually show up?

Back in '88 I sat in the Saddledome watching Elizabeth Manley do something uplifting on figure skates while, I swear, a third of the paid-for seats went unbummed.

I had no choice but to conclude that Canadians don't even like the sports Canadians like.

We saw the same thing in Beijing, where they actually resorted to having volunteers occupy sold-out but vacant stands.

I don't anticipate Lotus-landers will overcome this dilemma.

People who are rich enough to afford Olympic tourism simply have better things to do with their time than watch Italians curl against New Zealanders.

Some Vancouverites are already feeling buyer's remorse, like the guy whose Visa was dinged for 8,000 bucks, which gets him exactly four tickets for each of the opening and closing ceremonies. For that kind of cash one would hope they get Celine Dion and Madonna to front the Rolling Stones, with enough left over to bring Luciano Pavarotti back to life.

In the end, I told my Vancouver (ex-) friends, I predict that the most fun part of the next Winter Games will once again be tailgating with neighbours, trading pins, and milling around 2010's version of Olympic Plaza. Things, in short, that have little to do with such ephemera as skiing fast and shooting accurately next to shiny new infrastructure.

And that's where it might get tricky. I'm just not sure Vancouver has what it takes to eke out good times by drinking mulled wine beside the trunk of a vehicle.

The last time I took in a major sporting spectacle in Vancouver it was the 1999 Grey Cup between Calgary and Hamilton. I had always suspected Vancouver was a lame party town, but get this: B.C. Place actually ran out of beer at halftime.

Like I said, they hate hearing from me.