The Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games Cauldron Changes a City

It’s only a flame, some may say. But most won’t.

Despite technical difficulties that complicated the cauldron lighting at the Vancouver 2010 opening ceremonies; and Wayne Gretzky’s rain-soaked drive to the outdoor cauldron site – the Olympic cauldron has maintained its magical ability to capture the imagination of all, universally.

Throughout the Games crowds have gathered at the cauldron site around the clock, rain or shine (unfortunately, mostly rain). The Olympic flame has unleashed dramatic emotions in many – tears are not uncommon, but smiles and excitement usually prevail.

The need to see the flame is so important that widespread criticism forced VANOC to modify the security fence to allow for better views and photo opportunities. The new configuration now allows for a clear, close, ground-level view of the hallowed icon.

But that wasn’t enough.

An observing platform has been set up that allows visitors to line up and climb stairs in order to get to an overlooking vantage point. The view is not any closer, just from a different altitude and perspective. While at most times the ground-level perspective is accessible without waiting, the line up for the observing platform can get quite long. At most times the line stretches well beyond the “30 minutes from this point” sign that stands adjacent to the queue.

I overheard a family enjoying the cauldron while standing at the ground level viewing area. Pointing out the platform the father asked his two young children “Do you want to watch from up there?”

He then looked over to his wife and said “It’s a huge line up, but who cares?”

Those comments capture the thoughts of most visitors as they quickly join the platform line when they learn of the opportunity as it is periodically announced in the main viewing area. Nothing else matters.

But the Olympic flame seems to have transformed a city that used to have many Games critics and opponents. Massive positive celebrations that spontaneously erupt throughout the city – win or lose – is apparently not a typical Vancouver thing, I have been told. But visitors feel otherwise.

“It’s impossible to be in a bad mood in this place”, was a comment I overheard at Robson square from a couple decked out in U.S.A. gear.

When the flame goes out during the Olympic Games closing ceremonies Sunday, it will leave a noticeable void in Vancouver. While the cauldron will remain as a monument to these Games, the void will hopefully be transformed into fond memories of the experience.