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Amy Donaldson , Amy Donaldson
Souvenir hats of the mascots are sold at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancover. Souvenir sales have been successful.

VANCOUVER — Everyone, it seems, is smitten with the official Olympic mitten.

It was not, however, love at first sight for some of those who first saw the red, knit mittens, which bear the Olympic rings on the front and the maple leaf on the palm.

"I got them as part of my volunteer uniform," said Steven Flynn, a Richmond, British Columbia, resident who volunteers at the speedskating oval. "I wasn't that excited about them."

In hopes of injecting a little Olympic spirit into the family's Christmas celebration, however, he got on the computer to order the mittens for his family and friends.

"I went to try and order them as stocking stuffers, and they were sold out," Flynn said. "That was a surprise for me."

Whatever the original reaction to the gloves, they are the tiny, red rock stars of the 2010 Games. So many people sport them, they've become one of the most recognized symbols of the Games. At about $22 a pair, the mittens may not be practical (not waterproof in usually rainy Vancouver) but they are patriotic.

"We just wanted something from the Games for everyone," said Flynn, admitting they're really warm. "It's nice, too, because some of the money goes to support the Canadian Olympic team."

The Flynns aren't the only ones excited to wear their Canadian pride. Thousands stand in lines at the Official Super Store, from the time it opens at 9 a.m. until it closes at midnight, in hopes of snagging the colorful and stylish merchandise.

"We've had a tremendous amount of interest in our super store," said Vancouver Organizing Committee chief press officer Renee Smith Valade. "There is a lineup outside to get in virtually all the time. We're very happy with the response and the sales, so much so that we're considering extending the hours."

In fact, merchandise sales have so far exceeded expectations and may be what offset the cost of canceling about 28,000 tickets at events at Cypress Mountain, estimated to cost organizers $1.5 million.

"This money will offset the challenges at Cypress and a few others that have experienced unexpected costs," said Tim Gayda, who oversees venues for VANOC. "We're halfway through the Games and we've already met our sales goals for merchandise."

In addition to losing the revenue from ticket sales, VANOC has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars bringing snow to Cypress by plane and truck since January. The efforts to build courses out of wood and hay bales and then cover them with snow began in earnest before any fans or athletes arrived for the games.

While athletes have universally complimented the course conditions, fans have not always had such pleasant experiences.

Sara Kneller is from Australia and spent more than $600 on tickets to various ski cross events. Those tickets were canceled, and while her group has been able to get tickets to one event, they have no hope of recovering any of their money because they bought the tickets from a third party. VANOC is only reimbursing the original buyers of tickets.

Executive vice president for VANOC Dave Cobb said Gayda has spent most of his time dealing with issues at Cypress, which include lack of food and drink for fans.

"We have had some lineups at our food and beverage operations," said Cobb. "We have some inherent limitations (at the site)."

Even with the admission that some people will not be able to buy food or drink, and others are out money they'll never recover, Gayda believes the troubled Cypress venue is one of VANOC's triumphs.

"I truly believe it's one of the great success stories of our Games," he said.

And while the weather has made course preparation extremely difficult, it has only meant more people in the streets enjoying the energy of the Olympics.

Saturday, the streets and sidewalks were a moving sea of people — mostly dressed in Canadian red and white. Fans stood in line for hours to see the flame, medals, take pictures with fake bobsleds and snowboards in Robson Square.

"I have lived in the city my whole life and I have never seen this type of excitement," Cobb said. "It's just a fantastic feeling to see the way our city and country has responded to the Games."

One of the longest lines is at the Olympic Super Store where people wait more than an hour just to get inside.

While customers worry about what might be gone by the time they get inside, officials are already planning for shortages of the most popular items — the mittens and hoodies in white or black with "Canada" on the front.

"We have more shipments coming in from Hudson Bay to keep up with demand," she said.

Hussein Kamani bought his children the black sweatsuits in anticipation of his hometown hosting the games.

"I thought it was something cool for them to have," said Kamani, the father of three young boys. "I bought their track suits first and then got ours to match."

They were among the thousands of people who poured into downtown Vancouver as temperatures were in the high 40s and the sun shone brightly.

Officials managed to make the Olympic Flame more fan-friendly, putting it on a pedestal and cutting away a section of the fence so photographers could get a snapshot sans chain-link.

Karen and Russ Rawson drove about 25 minutes from Surrey, British Columbia, to enjoy the Olympic sites. They were disappointed that it was a three-hour wait to see the Olympic medals, but they had gotten a glimpse of the flame and were enjoying the energy downtown.

"We've had tickets to some events for a year or so, but we thought, it's a great day, why not go out and soak it up?" Russ Rawson said.

Tourists, as well as locals, aren't just clamoring for official Olympic gear. A number of T-shirt and souvenir shops near Robson Square and the Olympic Flame reported impressive sales in the first few days of competition.

"You just cannot compare it to anything else," said Raymond Fong, who works in the Robson Street Gift Shop, which has also extended its hours from 8 a.m. until midnight to accommodate near constant crowds. "Lots of business. This is totally different. February is usually slow, no one here."

His shop has been selling a lot of hats and T-shirts that have any Olympic picture or symbol on them.

"T-shirts are the biggest," he said.

As for working extra hours in what is normally his slow season, he doesn't mind at all.

"It's no problem," he beamed. "It's once in a lifetime, right?"

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com