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Let the Olympic Games begin

Vancouver is excited to welcome the world

VANCOUVER — For Ridley Wallace, the throngs of visitors meandering around the streets of his hometown are not inconvenient at all. In fact, they're extremely welcome guests.

"I love it!" said the 21-year-old life-long Vancouver resident. "I don't mind the crowds. It's great. The whole world is coming, and we've got to look good for them!"

Wallace's sentiments sum up the feelings of most residents of Vancouver. They're so happy to be hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, they don't mind the extra traffic, longer bus waits or being asked for directions or restaurant reviews every few blocks.

"It's a beautiful city," said Wallace, who works in a T-shirt shop near Robson Square, a gathering place for vendors, as well as a place to buy tickets to Olympic events. "I do wish the weather would have held out."

Rain fell off and on all day Thursday as the city prepared in earnest for the Games, which begin today with opening ceremonies at the BC Place Stadium.

Vancouver residents are used to rain, but it did put a damper on outdoor activities for many out-of-town visitors. It was also a concern at Cypress Mountain, which is where mogul skiers were preparing to compete Saturday. On Wednesday, U.S. coaches said the course looked "perfect," but with several days of rain forecast, the worries about conditions began to surface again.

The women's downhill training run at Creekside Whistler was cancelled after more than two hours of delay.

In Vancouver, however, visitors as well as locals braved the rain to bask in the growing Olympic spirit. They crowded around fake bobsleds and snowboards with backdrops touting British Columbia. Many stood in line to ride a zip line that took them across an ice skating rink, and others crowded around vendors selling everything from hats and scarves to books and pins.

Among the activities Thursday was the speculation about who might carry the torch into the stadium. Being a hockey-loving nation, many believed it would be "The Great One" Wayne Gretzky. Others, however, speculated that it might be the mother of Canadian hero Terry Fox. Terrance Stanley Fox was born right outside Vancouver and became one of the country's most beloved figures because of his decision to try to run a marathon a day across Canada in 1980 to raise money for cancer research. He'd had his leg amputated just above the knee and ran on a prosthetic until he was forced to quit after 143 days and 3,339 miles — about six months into his effort. He learned the cancer had spread to his lungs, and he died about a year later.

The last day of Vancouver's Olympic torch relay will feature a famous American — California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. While some questioned whether or not it was a good idea to have a participant who'd admitted to using steroids, an International Olympic Committee spokesman said time has healed that wound.

"We will accept some concept of rehabilitation," said Mark Adams, IOC spokesman, noting the admissions were in the distant past. "He is now a very respectable governor of one of the largest states in the United States. So I imagine that under that set of circumstances, we would be happy to have him."

Among the highlights for Vancouverites is meeting people from foreign countries. One local handed out Canadian flag pins to out-of-town guests.

"We met the Slovenia Bobsled Team," said Wallace with a grin.

Sean Power has lived in Vancouver for two years. He took his 3-year-old son, Riley, and 10-year-old daughter, Christina, out to see the sights. They weren't sure they were going to be able to afford tickets to events, but if they did go, they knew exactly what they'd like to see.

"Women's hockey," said Sean as they stood in line for a Japandog.

"It's exciting," he said as Christine explained to someone just how good a Terimayo dog is compared to a regular hot dog. (It's beef or pork garnished with mayo and teriyaki sauce.)

Student Blake Abbie, 22, was headed to watched the end of the day's torch relay.

"I'm totally excited," he said. "I can't go to any events. It's too expensive. But I love all the other stuff. Vancouver is really walkable. The city has been changing."

Wallace said that in addition to a lot of "decorating" Vancouverites fixed up their roads and changed some problematic street lights.

"It looks so much better," he said. "It's always pretty, but we made a few repairs."

Officials from the Vancouver Organizing Committee and the IOC said everything is ready to go for the 2010 Games.

"Which is good news," said Adams with a little laugh.

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com