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The Globe and Mail

Olympic high lands at airport, as crowds keep the party going

Czech Republic athletes and team staff wait to check in for their flight home at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C.

The Globe and Mail

The Olympic street party moved from Vancouver's downtown pedestrian malls to Vancouver International Airport yesterday as enthusiastic fans came out to catch a last glimpse of the athletes and snap a few photos.

The carnival atmosphere that Vancouver loved so much was recreated in the departure lounge as Olympians with oversized ski bags and luggage hung out, waiting for their flights. Pin traders wandered the halls; a face painter was busy brushing colourful Maple Leaves and Olympic rings, mostly on the cheeks of adults.

A game of hacky sack broke out as the Czech Olympic team stood around, lost in a sea of oversized ski bags and poles. Olympic mascots Quatchi and Miga, along with a human-size moose, beaver and whale, playfully meandered among the clusters of passengers. Several people were taking photos of athletes, especially those who won gold.

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Anticipating the busiest day in their history, Vancouver airport authorities had asked passengers to arrive at the airport up to four hours before their flights. An auxiliary terminal was built to siphon off 10,000 people from the main terminal and shorten the lines for everybody.

Everything was going exactly as planned, airport executive Paul Levy said in an interview. Restaurants, beverage, and retail outlets were open throughout the night after the closing ceremonies, enabling check-in through the night. Several people took advantage of the opening, he said. Three Russian charter flights, with 200 to 300 people each, left between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.

The airport also had police on bicycles circling the terminal. Corporal Gillian Garner, a Mountie from Montreal who was helping out in Vancouver during the Olympics, said the crowds at the airport were well-behaved. "Everyone is in great spirit," Cpl. Garner said.

Kathleen Hamill lives in Vancouver but she came out to the airport yesterday to keep the Olympic spirit alive for a bit longer.

"I just wander around, have a coffee, meet a few people," she said. "This is such a very special thing."

Claire Cross, from Ottawa, took pictures of some Czech athletes as they stood in line, waiting to be checked in.

Ms. Cross's 13-year-old nephew David carried the Olympic torch shortly before the Games began. She went to several events, including two Canada hockey games. After thoroughly enjoying the Olympics, she did not mind coming out to the airport four hours early for a 5½-hour flight back to Ottawa.

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"For peace and calm, why not? It's better to give them [the airport staff] some breathing space. I had such a great time. I did not want to end it on a sour note at the airport," Ms. Cross said.

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