The Games begin — Furlong’s perspective

Just hours after the unveiling of the medals for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, VANOC CEO John Furlong told a Board of Trade luncheon crowd that the Vancouver Games have already been a transformative event in the history of the province.

The Games have already begun, Furlong said, with yesterday’s transportation plan roll-out, the medal unveiling and the lighting of the Olympic flame next week in Greece. After that, the longest torch relay in Olympic history will visit 1,000 communities and then, at last, we have the Games.

In an emotional speech that reviewed the long history of the bid, from the victory in Prague to last week’s final report to the IOC in Copenhagen, Furlong ticked off the transformations he believes have already occurred.

Most conspicuous of course, are the venues — “the changes at the airport, the new Olympic Village, a new rail line, although it was not part of the bid, and on it goes” — but even more important, he argues, are the changes in the people of the province.

In Prague, he said, “we had a vision and that vision was a very human one.” The Games “could be about everyone, not an exclusive few . . . we would find a way to let everyone in.”

Here he claimed successes that are seldom counted in the long debates about civil liberties and traffic:

  • there’s “not a village in Canada where there isn’t a ticketholder, not a village where there isn’t a volunteer;”
  • the surge in ticket demand, up to 1,500 queries a second, that briefly made the VANOC site the busiest on the planet;
  • the massive efforts by sponsors, including the new superstore at the Bay, including — yes, it’s true — the Coca Cola Happiness Cafe; and
  • the upcoming VANOC appearance at the United Nations to announce the Olympic Truce, which will underline the “power of sport” to uplift and heal.

“When God made this part of the world, he made it for himself,” Furlong concluded, “and he shared it with us. We’re about to share it with the world.

“Give the world a big hug when they arrive here and make them feel they have arrived at a great place on earth,” he said. “Sport is the vitamin this century needs, the vitamin this country needs.”

Transformative? Vitamin? You may not agree with Furlong, you may laugh at the metaphors, but the numbers are serious: this project is drawing in hundreds of thousands of people.