Organizers of the 2012 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in St. Albert started their official countdown when they picked up the flag from the Summer Special Olympics in London, Ont.
The event, which ended Saturday, saw Mayor Nolan Crouse, St. Albert Special Olympics chair Dan MacLennan and other members of the organizing committee on hand to officially receive the flag from the London organizers.
Crouse said he was very impressed with how smoothly the event ran, which saw athletes from across the country, including St. Albert, participate in a variety of sports such as bowling, swimming and soccer. He said the trip gave the organizers a chance to observe the games from behind the scenes to see how London dealt with issues that came up.
"People were able to look at the details in action," he said.
One of the highlights for Crouse was the opening ceremony, where around 600 police, Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP officers carried in the torch. He expressed hope that St. Albert could get a similar showing at the city's opening ceremonies.
In past years, police officers from across the country have participated in the Special Olympics torch runs and often assist with the games.
"It elevated the emotion of it and the importance of it," said Crouse. "Uniformed officers will definitely be part of it."
MacLennan, named in February as chair of the Special Olympics organizing committee, said he was impressed with how quickly the London organizers dealt with challenges that cropped up along the way, including shifting the closing ceremonies indoors when the weather turned sour.
However, without the hundreds of volunteers that came out to help with the games, MacLennan believes the event might not have gone so smoothly. He added it was crucial for St. Albert to see a similar number of volunteers turn out in February 2012.
"It's certainly a huge undertaking," he said. "I just witnessed the amazing volunteer power."
Now that St. Albert has the official Special Olympics Canada flag, MacLennan said it was important the committee starts recruiting volunteers for the St. Albert games. That sentiment was echoed by Special Olympics Alberta chair Carmen Wyton, who said experts in winter sports, marketing and logistics would be needed to run various sub-committees.
"We need some community leaders to step up," she said. "If someone thinks they are an expert in cross-country skiing, we need them now."
Another major hurdle Wyton said the group is working on is partnerships with various groups in St. Albert and the surrounding area. She said the list of partners would be released in the next month, adding that by announcing early many of the sponsors are allowing their names to be tied to the games for some time.
Wyton said Servus Credit Union Place and the Enjoy Centre are confirmed for the opening and closing ceremonies respectively, while the Marmot Basin in Jasper is scheduled to hold the skiing events.
"I think now it's just making it real and getting the basics in place," she said. "I'm not nervous at all."