Golden Olympics

Logo of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games

A week before the start to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, I had the temerity to wonder whether the experience would be fun for the city and its visitors. At the time, there were few tell-tales to be seen on the city streets. Now the games are concluded and I have absolutely no difficulty declaring them a resounding success.

VANOC put on a superb show, not only for the world’s best winter athletes but for Vancouver as well. The experience was inclusive, inspirational, and delightful. Much has been made, and will continue to be made, of the economic costs and benefits that go into hosting an Olympic Games. That accounting will play-out in the years to come and the ultimate judgment cannot be predicted with any certainty, one way or the other. But only the most Grinch-like observer, pushing an ulterior agenda, could say that these games were anything but marvelous.

Sure, the London tabloids, having nothing better to write about, sniped at the games in the early going. But it was telling that, Paul Deighton, the CEO of the London 2012 Organising Committee had nothing but praise for the games. He was especially complimentary of the manner in which VANOC had engaged the community and the way in which the corresponding response from Vancouverites contributed to the overall sense of excellence of the games. “Our challenge will be to energize our citizens in the same way that Vancouver has, because that adds immeasurably to the spirit of the event,” he said. “Fortunately, we’ve been everywhere in the last two weeks and have learned a lot from the organizers here about how to make that happen.”

I was able to get tie-breaking British opinion courtesy of the Great Britain short track speed skating team, which wandered down to the tennis courts where I play in Kitsilano this afternoon. The guys I spoke with lauded the games and the city and people of Vancouver. The consensus was that being at the Olympics would rock no matter where it was; but that quite apart from the way the sporting events were conducted, the city itself was fun, welcoming, and greatly enhanced their experiences. They felt fortunate to be flying out a couple days later than most of the other athletes and were grateful to have more time to kick about the town.

I had intended to describe the various cultural happenings around town over the past two weeks –- the many great free concerts I saw, the spontaneous comings together of strangers, the ways in which the diverse Vancouver community was involved in both the celebration and the extending of the celebration to its visitors -– but I think I’ll do something different. Let me instead present something quite remarkable, which I find emblematic of the spirit and thoughtfulness with which the Vancouver 2010 Olympics were delivered.

Even a casual follower of the Olympics can tell you that the most aboninable things that occur during any games -– worse than even the most horrific figure skating outfit, the traditionally unlistenable operatic singing of the truly awful Olympic anthem, and the most saccharine, soft-focused, melodramatic television profile of an athlete overcoming biblical adversity make it to the top of their sport –- are the speeches given during the opening and closing ceremonies by the presidents of the International Olympic Committee and local organizing committee. They are invariably too long, too vacuous, and too formulaic. They are typically devoid of any meaningful local context and could easily be recycled in two- or four-year rotations -– and perhaps they are, I haven’t checked.

Now, let’s up the ante on Vancouver. The president of the Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee, John Furlong, may just be the most awkward public speaker ever to appear on international television. And I’m talking about his remarks in English, his native language, not the absolute hatchet job he does on what I think is supposed to be French, the other official language of both Canada and the Olympic movement.

And yet, the addresses given by Mr. Furlong at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies were two of the truly outstanding features of those high-profile celebrations. They were grounded in the local experience, warmly welcoming, humble, broadly inclusive, personal, non-formulaic, and smartly interpretive of many of the broader social themes that play-out not only within the competitions but in the collective imagination of a city like Vancouver in playing host to the world.

I have not been able to find these excerpted on YouTube, or the like. And I am the first to admit that this stuff can look a little dry in print and lacks the emotional impact of oral delivery; but print is what you get. One editorial note: because Mr. Furlong writes with a certain estrangement from the rules of punctuation and paragraph arrangement, I have taken the liberty to edit the texts below to reflect his delivery and thereby do the words justice.

Opening Ceremony Address of VANOC President John Furlong

Excellencies, President and members of the International Olympic Committee, Members of the Olympic Family, Athletes of the world, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Bienvenue. Welcome to Vancouver.

With Jack Poole and Nodar Kumaritashvili in our hearts, and standing on the shoulders of every Canadian, I commit that the men and women of Vancouver 2010 — our partners and our friends — are ready to deliver the performance of a life time.

Tonight through the magic of television we visit the living rooms of the world to tell our story. And as we do, we invite people everywhere to share and experience — even if just for a few moments — what it feels like to be a proud Canadian.

As you, the best Winter Olympic athletes of all time, enter the arena prepared for you here in Canada — to compete in the honour and glory of sport, seizing the moment to inspire the youth of the world through your heroic efforts –- you carry with you the hopes and the dreams of so many. You are role models for our children: heroes, giants, human champions, the best ever.

You are living proof that men and women everywhere are capable of doing great good and that, in life as it is in sport, we should always give our best and never, ever give up.

You are our beacon of hope in a world so much in need of peace, healing, unity, generosity, and inspiration.

Youth the world over aspire to be just like you.

You compete with such bravery, conviction and pride. At these Games you now have the added burden to shine and be united around your fallen colleague Nodar. May you carry his Olympic dream on your shoulders and compete with his spirit in your hearts.

Many thousands have made tonight and the days ahead possible — But the spirit and soul of all 33 million Canadians has been sewn into the fabric of these Winter Olympic Games.

This journey has not been about the few — but rather the many. All Canadians: Aboriginal Canadians, New Canadians, English and Francophone Canadians.

And the myriad of cultures, micro cultures, languages and peoples that make Canada – Canada.

And tonight the longest domestic torch relay in Olympic history ends in this Stadium after an epic, unforgettable journey of discovery, across a land visually blessed, rich in history, and profoundly human.

The Olympic flame has touched many millions and prompted spontaneous, peaceful celebration, reminding that we must never abandon those values that unite and inspire the best in us.

As the Olympic Cauldron is lit, the unique magic of the Olympic Games will be released upon us. Magic so rare that it cannot be controlled by borders. The kind of magic that invades the human heart touching people of all cultures and beliefs. Magic that calls for the best that human beings have to offer. Magic that causes the athletes of the world to soar — and the rest of us to dream.

Tonight — here — in the glow and wonder of the Flame, we can all aspire to be Olympian.

From whatever continent you have come we welcome you to Canada, a country with a Generous Heart.

We love that you are here. You are among good friends. Vous etes parmis vos amis

We are honoured to be received into so many hearts and homes all over the world this night. And we aspire to leave you with breathtaking memories to last a lifetime.

Let us all be reminded that the world is indeed watching.

Hoping!

Cheering!

If you listen, you can almost hear the voices.

Through our example tonight and over the 16 days to come our children will begin to dream and believe in what is possible. Lives of great significance begin with a spark, a nudge, a gesture. Together let us touch as many as we can, while we can.

On this, the proudest night of my life, I thank my loyal, selfless team mates — our tireless, smiling “blue jacket” volunteers, our partners, our thoughtful leaders, the IOC and global Olympic family and our many friends and families — for their belief, their endurance, their sacrifice, and their courage.

And of course thanks to the thousands of media — story tellers and broadcasters — who will shape and chronicle every details of this adventure for its place in history.

To the people of the Games host communities: we applaud you for your spirit and for opening your hearts and your homes to the world.

And of course we thank the billions watching across the globe who hope and pray for our success.

Tonight, we are as we have been: One Team. Une Equipe.

And in keeping with proud Olympic Tradition we have given this grand, human adventure our very best.

As the 21st Olympic Winter Games — Canada’s Games — begin, it is with Glowing Hearts –- Des Plus Brilliants Exploits — that we wish you all the time of your lives.

Que L’Esprit Des Jeux Vous Habite

Thank you all and may God Bless Canada.

Closing Ceremony Address of VANOC President John Furlong

Excellencies, Chiefs, President Rogge, Members of the International Olympic Committee, Prime Minister, Heads of State, Premiers, Mayors, Ladies and Gentlemen, Athletes of the World:

Good evening.

The 2010 Olympic Winter Games have taught us that we are not 6 billion people. We are all members of the same family. Over these remarkable 17 days we have together demonstrated the remarkable powers of sport to the human world. We have seen first hand that there is indeed a beautiful force that can unite, inspire and liberate — a force that can replace despair with hope and ignite the human spirit. This force is sport in the arena of the Olympic Games. And because we had sport here – we too had peace. And because these Games took place in the spirit of peace, they took place in the spirit of friendship.

But the time has come to say goodbye, to say thank you. And to perhaps compare for a moment the Canada that was with the Canada that now is.

I believe we Canadians tonight are stronger, more united, more in love with our country and more connected with each other than ever before. These Olympic Games have lifted us up. If the Canada that came together on Opening night was a little mysterious to some, it no longer is. Now you know us, eh?

If we were once the few we are surely now the many. That quiet, humble national pride we were sometimes reluctant to acknowledge seemed to take to the streets as the most beautiful kind of patriotism broke out all across our country; so many new and dazzling applications for the Maple Leaf, so many reasons to smile and be joyful.

Canadians you joined each other and our colourful international visitors in common celebration –- radiant, jubilant, spontaneous, peaceful. For us you were the wind beneath our wings. You did not just cheer; rather you lived every glorious moment as if you yourselves were competing for gold. You were the bench strength we had hoped for, the difference makers at these Games.

Alexander [Bilodeau], your first Gold Medal gave us all permission to feel like and behave like champions. Our last one will be remembered for generations.

To the Men and Women in the Blue Jackets, you are the undisputed heroes of these Games. The class of 2010. A perfect team, you have behaved with great dignity, poured your hearts and souls into every task. You smiled, you cheered, and you filled the hearts of our visitors with friendship and good will. For many of you who toiled behind the scenes no thanks will ever be enough. You took on a stubborn mountain with all your might. The result: Blue Jackets 1, Cypress Mountain Weather 0. You were tested again and again and reminded us all every day that there is no force that can sustain itself against the full thrust of a determined human heart. May your contribution here be worn as a badge of honour for the rest of your lives. For you have, through your service, defined for all to see what it is to be a proud, generous Canadian.

To our many friends and trusted partners: we tip our hat to each of you for a magnificent contribution. To our leaders, sitting over there: full credit for believing in and empowering this great adventure. To those who built the venues, drove the busses, cooked the food, and toiled day and night to complete a million tasks: may the success of these Games be your reward for all your days to come.

To the people of the host region: you were magnificent. Your contribution was magical.

To our International visitors: you were gracious, thoughtful, spontaneous guests, and spirited fans. Thank you very much. To our security team for keeping us safe: you were in a word “terrific.” To the IOC: thank you for trusting us and investing so passionately in our success. It has been our great honour to host the world and we thank you for believing in our vision. We did our best. To our friends from Sochi: we are in your corner and wish you every success in 2014.

To the people of Georgia: we are so sad and so sorry for your loss. Your unimaginable grief is shared by every Canadian and all those who have gathered here. May the legacy of your favorite son, Nodar Kumaritashvilli, never be forgotten and serve to inspire youth everywhere to be champions in life.

Athletes of the world you promised you would play fair and you did. At your hands and through your determination and tenacity we have felt every imaginable emotion. We have lived the agony and the ecstasy with you as if we ourselves were competing. By your example you have injected hope into the lives of youth everywhere –- youth that will rise tomorrow ready to emulate you. Boys and girls you will never meet now know that it is possible to achieve greatness through the power of a dream. You have set the course for the next generation of great champions. You return to your homes as the best ambassadors we have for a better world. You are the future. The youth of the world await your leadership and your example.

And finally to those who have watched us all over the globe we hope you enjoyed these Games and the telling of our humble Canadian story. The young men and women you sent here are coming home. You can be very proud of them.

The Games will have many wonderful legacies. I wish but for one. That every Canadian child will have the chance to grow up to experience the pleasure of sport — no one left out. And that we of the Global Olympic family will not rest until the right of every child to play, across this planet, is secured.

Good bye to you all. As Robert Charlebois said, “Farewell, you will always be my best memory.” Thank you very much, good bye. Long live Canada. Thank you, Canada.

Hats off to Mr. Furlong and his VANOC team for creating an outstanding Olympic experience for Vancouver, for Canada, and for the world!

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2 Responses to “Golden Olympics”


  1. 1 Bob in Albuquerque 13 March 2010 at 5:14 pm

    So keep following…..just found the paralympicsport.tv site…opening ceremony 3/12. I cried 2 times …..I hope this is a media event for the first time.

    beautiful reporting by the way

    xoxo
    bob

  2. 2 mbjesq 13 March 2010 at 11:09 pm

    Bob Bowman

    Few readers of memestream will necessarily recognize “Bob in Albuquerque” as my lovely and inspiring friend Bob Bowman, filmmaker, creative font, social activist, and wheelchair warrior. He’s also, apparently, a total pussy. I only cried once during the Opening Ceremonies of the Paralympic Winter Games!

    Bobby is a perfect example of the slogan of the 2010 Paralymic Games: “One inspires many!” He also exemplifies one of the more subtle, underlying tropes of Paralympic sport: that the physical prowess of the athletes is so striking, the predominant impression is one of ability, not disability. By way of example, years ago Yoo-Mi and I designed and built a house on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Whenever we would have parties, house concerts, or the like, I would always announce that the place was “wheelchair accessible.” My proof: when Bobby would visit San Francisco and stay with us, he’d back his wheelchair up those three long flights of stairs, with little more assistance than a “spotter”, several times a day.

    1230 Kearny Street
    Wheelchair Accessible, If you are Bob Bowman.

    I’ve never had the chance to ski with Bobby; but I understand that he’s a damn good sitting mono-skier. He should be here with us in Vancouver to enjoy the Paralympic Games in person.

    MBJ


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