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Goodbye Vancouver: VANOC event services co-ordinator Susie Dodge, centre, watches as passengers file past her at the Vancouver International Airport on Monday, the airport's busiest day ever as Olympic athletes and visitors leave. (DARRYL DYCK/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Goodbye Vancouver: VANOC event services co-ordinator Susie Dodge, centre, watches as passengers file past her at the Vancouver International Airport on Monday, the airport's busiest day ever as Olympic athletes and visitors leave. (DARRYL DYCK/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Once a sea of red, Vancouver turns blue Add to ...

In Salt Lake, there was close to a city-wide depression. In Lillehammer, people who had worked for years to stage the Olympics suddenly felt bereft and forgotten.

The post-Games blues are part of every host Olympic city. Now, it's Vancouver's turn.

On Sunday, even as the 2010 Winter Games were coming to their spectacular conclusion, with a Canadian gold medal in men's hockey and lavish closing ceremonies, VANOC was letting 300 people go.

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Although they had always known their gigs were up the day the Games ended, some took it hard.

"I saw at least one individual who was clearly in a state of shock," said Donna Wilson, executive vice-president for Human Resources. "He had that blank, anxious look on his face, as if to say, 'What do I do now?'"

VANOC is offering counselling to employees as they head out the door, after months, sometimes years, of being in the spotlight, working for an event that captures the attention of the world.

The organization has also set up a Facebook site to allow former employees to stay connected, to ease their transition to an uncertain future. "We tried to coach them ahead of time as much as we could, but now the emotions are there. It's palpable," Ms. Wilson said.

A similar mood prevailed on the suddenly quiet and relatively empty streets of Vancouver. There was a feeling that something grand had passed and would never be back. Seventeen joyous days of virtually non-stop celebrating were over, and it was back to the daily grind.

Linda Parke, still wearing her red Olympic mittens, said she noticed the change on the bus coming to work. "During the Olympics, everyone talked to each other. This morning, nobody was talking. It's kind of a letdown. You feel blue."

Canadian flags sticking out of their backpacks, clutching their closing ceremonies kits and adorned in red Canada jackets, Ivar Sullivan and Denise Williamson headed off to catch the ferry back to Nanaimo, after an intense week-long Olympic experience.

"Everything feels different today," Mr. Sullivan said, glumly. "It's so empty downtown. It's sad."

"It's kind of a shock," echoed Ms. Williamson. "But I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

Deedee Corradini knows how Vancouver feels. She was mayor of Salt Lake when the city won the bid to stage the 2002 Winter Olympics. "There was just a huge letdown, almost a depression. It was very, very hard to take," Ms. Corradini recalled. "You spend years preparing for the Games. They arrive. The city is one big party. Then boom, it's over. It's really quite traumatic."

Gerhard Heiberg headed the organizing committee of one of the most successful Winter Olympics ever, the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. He, too, says the day after impact was horrendous, particularly on members of his team.

"They are in the sunshine for years, everyone talks to them, the media is always calling," Mr. Heiberg said. "All of a sudden, they wake up the day after the Olympics and no one talks to them. They have to clean out their offices. It's very lonely. Some get depressed." This is a little-discussed aspect of every Olympics, he said. "It's not just Lillehammer."

The blues also hit local residents, but they bounce back quicker, Mr. Heiberg said. "There's a little loneliness. Where has all the fun gone? But they still have jobs, houses, and in a few days they will be feeling happy about hosting the greatest party on Earth for 17 days."

But within hours of the last straggler finding his way home from Sunday's wild night of celebration, the lone Olympic sport still going on was dismantling. Construction workers moved swiftly to begin tearing down the very sites and pavilions that had welcomed so many.

The flame was out at the waterfront cauldron. The Olympic clock, which had been counting up the days since the Games began, was frozen at zero. And the public plaza behind the art gallery, thronged with visitors throughout the Games, was deserted. The sleek red bobsleigh there, which had spawned long lineups for the chance to pose for pictures, was draped by a large, white sheet.

With a report from Niamh Scallan

Follow on Twitter: @rodmickleburgh

 

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