Nightly News   |  February 06, 2010

Vancouver prepares to welcome the world

A nervous tension and excitement is building in Canada’s third-largest city as it opens its arms to an estimated quarter of a million Olympic visitors. NBC’s Dawn Friesen reports.

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>>> olympics . vancouver lies just a three hours' drive north of seattle and a mere 30 miles from the u.s. border. and while it has a lot in common with the american pacific northwest , vancouver sees the olympics as its chance to remind a global audience that their city is a world apart. here's nbc's donna friesen.

>> reporter: from the mountains to the ocean, vancouver 's natural beauty is a dazzling setting for the winter olympics . it's canada's third largest city, home to 2.1 million people, and is routine lainkd as one of the world's most livable cities . the challenge is to make the games sparkle as much as vancouver does.

>> we have this sort of positive anxiety, nervous tension feeling, and the city's got a bit of a smile on its face. it feels good.

>> reporter: several downtown areas have been blocked off for street parties , and 25,000 volunteers are already out in force.

>> just go down, and you'll get it there.

>> reporter: helping guide some of the estimated 250,000 visitors expected to descend on the city.

>> we're used to having lots of tourists, and we like to celebrate our city, but this is at a scale that has never been done before. so we're really going to have to step up.

>> reporter: almost $2 billion has been spent on infrastructure, including a new rail line from the airport to downtown. nine of the venues are either downtown or not far away, including b.c. place , where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held, and in richmond, where there's a stunning new speed-skating oval. overlooking vancouver is cypress. that's where the snowboarding will be once they've trucked in enough snow. and 90 minutes up a newly widened spectacular road they call the sea to sky-highway is whistler. home of the alpine ski events and a new track for bobsled, luge, and skeleton that the athletes are already calling the fastest in the world. and if sales of olympic merchandise are any measure, people are getting into the spirit.

>> it has been phenomenal. we've had sales of more than four times more than we expected.

>> reporter: and the hottest items at these olympics are these red mittens. but you know what? it's so warm here you don't really need them. for the first time in olympic history, indigenous people , canada's first nations people, are full partners.

>> we had over 200 initiatives that we've included ourselves in these games.

>> reporter: including the medals, designed by an aboriginal artist. for some the cheering has already begun.

>> what does it say?

>> korea.

>> go korea?

>> yeah.

>> is this going to be the best winter olympics ever, do you think?

>> positively, yes.

>> reporter: the city is ready to welcome the world. donna friesen, nbc news, vancouver .

>> and we are happy to