Games have been a long time coming

By BOB MACKIN, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER- Two-thousand, four-hundred and seventeen days ago, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge stood up in Prague and announced Vancouver’s bid won the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The biggest winter sports event in the world finally begins Friday.

“We have this kind of tension you feel in your stomach when you’re siting in the changing room before a big game and you should have it because it causes you to rise to the occasion,” VANOC CEO John Furlong said at a Thursday news conference. “I believe we’re ready and the city is responding in the most extraordinary way today by taking to the streets and supporting the arrival of the Olympic flame.”

Furlong has seen highs and lows throughout his tenure atop the organizing committee. First he dealt with an economic boom that drove up the price of labour and materials to build venues. Then the global economic collapse that impacted sponsors. Both times, millions of dollars of government help was sought.

“We became a better company for this,” Furlong said.”Was it fun? It was not, it was extremely difficult. People were up long nights grinding at budgets.”

Friday’s opening of the 2010 Games is the culmination of a half-century of hopes and dreams. In 1960, a group of Vancouverites returned from the Squaw Valley Games in California determined to build a ski resort at London Mountain and bring the Olympics to Canada’s west coast. The slopes were renamed Whistler and a ski resort was born.

Unsuccessful bids were made for 1968 and 1980. A chance to host the 1976 Games was passed over by the provincial government when the IOC sought a replacement for Denver, where voters rejected a spending measure.

Amateur sport and tourism officials studied an Olympic bid in the mid-1990s, eventually opting to seek the Winter Games because Toronto had Summer Olympic ambitions. The domestic bid under the leadership of ex-Vancouver Canucks’ owner Arthur Griffiths beat Calgary and Quebec City for the Canadian Olympic Committee’s nod in 1998.

Vancouver real estate developer Jack Poole and Furlong, who managed one of the city’s most exclusive country clubs, took up the cause. Four-and-a-half years later, Vancouver beat PyeongChang, South Korea and Salzburg, Austria for the right to host the 21st Olympic Winter Games.

The only thing missing Friday is Poole, Furlong’s mentor and the founding chairman of the Vancouver 2010 Bid Committee. Poole died Oct. 23 in a Vancouver hospital after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, just hours after the Olympic flame was lit in Ancient Olympia, Greece.

The Olympic flame is expected to burn outdoors in a cauldron on a plaza dedicated to Poole by B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell.

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