Approaching 2010: Legacies and Lessons from Athens
October 14, 2004
John Furlong, CEO to the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC), has a favourite moment from the 2004 summer games in Athens.
On the last day of the games, Vanderlei de Lima, the lead runner in the marathon, was tackled by a member of the crowd. With the help of other onlookers, de Lima got back on his feet and kept running, finishing third in the grueling race.
"There was a moment," said Furlong, speaking at Spirit of Vancouver event sponsored by RBC Financial Group, "when his dream was almost wiped out, but he realized he had an opportunity and took advantage of it and demonstrated to the world that the Olympic spirit is alive and well, even at the most challenging times. His finish in the stadium showed true class in his incredible finish, and he was an Olympic champion of an entirely different kind." Furlong believes it may have been the most memorable moment in the Games, because it wasn't about the medal but about the power of the human spirit and effort the athlete was able to make at that moment. "If there was anything I could fix about that moment," said Furlong, in his noticeable Irish accent, "it would be, why did it have to be a defrocked Irish priest?" There was a huge amount of negative press and doubt about Athens' ability to stage these Olympics, but now, in the aftermath of what many consider to be the best Olympic achievement of all time, Furlong believes the world owes Greece an apology. It was, he said, an extraordinary achievement for such a small country with limited resources, and with the challenges it faced, Greece deserves absolute respect.
Furlong said the Canadian Olympic committee went to Athens with no agenda except to learn and to see how the logistics had come together to do a great job. He cited several aspects of the games that were staged and executed in a way that Canada can learn from and emulate. "We can learn from the lessons of Greece, and take advantage of their experience so that in 2010, we can get to the finish line in one piece, strong and healthy, and achieve the admiration of the world along the way." The athlete's village was an incredible physical phenomenon, said Furlong - a massive infrastructure made of pure white marble, the village easily housed up to 20,000 people, which, as Furlong pointed out, was as big as 60 per cent of Canadian communities. The atmosphere was communal and friendly and gave the committee a sense of how important the village is to the spirit of the Games.
To manage the logistics of transportation in what is normally a very congested city, Athens implemented "Olympic lanes," meaning drivers could not be in the lanes without a permit pertaining to the Games. The lanes were completely respected and made it very easy to get around to the various venues and events.
Security was not over the top-it was dialed down but professional, Furlong said. He noted that this is one of the great opportunities we have in Canada because our security is considered internationally to be world-class; we can show the world we can do it just as well, for much less money.
Furlong acknowledged there was some disappointment for our own athletes, but this is another lesson we can learn from Athens: "We've got to give our athletes more help, encouragement and support starting tomorrow if we want the best athletes in 2010." Furlong continued, "The Canadian public wants us to do a great job of execution and they want the team on the podium. If we do both, this will be the most celebrated endeavour in this country's history and we can't settle for anything less. We've all got a role to play in making that happen." That role includes not just Vancouver but all of Canada. "The vision is that the country will be more proud, that we will have achieved relevance; that the youth will be determined, active, and inspired; that every child will have experienced what it's like to play; that we will realize the true value of being a Canadian and how lucky we are to be Canadian. It is the vision of a promise kept," concluded Furlong. This content was provided courtesy of the Vancouver Board of Trade. To read more related articles, go to www.boardoftrade.com.