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ll things considered, I think we’ve had an extraordinary outcome here,” insisted John Furlong. However, despite the Vancouver Olympics organising committee (VANOC) chief executive officer’s understandable pride, the Olympic journey was unquestionably a tumultuous one. The untimely death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, the bite of the worldwide recession and unfavourable weather conditions appeared, at times, to leave the Games teetering on the edge. However, the challenges ultimately made the achievements of Furlong, Vancouver and Canada as a whole even more impressive. While the problems will linger in the memory, so too will the likes of Sidney Crosby’s last-gasp winner in the men’s ice hockey final and Lindsey Vonn’s virtuoso performance in the downhill skiing. Such moments, coupled with the lasting legacy of the Games, are likely to have a significant impact
both within and beyond Canada’s borders. Lessons Representatives from the organising committees of London, which will host the Summer Games in two years’ time, and 2014 Winter Games host Sochi were in attendance in Vancouver, making meticulous notes on how to host an Olympics. During their time in Canada, the organising committees analysed the sports competitions, transport links, accommodation, venue operations, communications, marketing, technology, ceremonies and city operations amongst numerous other matters. So what are the key lessons that can be learned from VANOC and Canada’s Games? “You need a very clear vision about what you want,” explained Furlong. “We had a very clear focus and we believed very much in teamwork. “We somehow managed to keep everybody together so when we had stuff to deal with we had real commitment from everybody to solve issues and move on.
“We had great momentum to get through things quickly. We had worked very hard to test and try to prepare for the kinds of things that occurred.” Furlong and the rest of VANOC had a vision for the Games that some people did not believe in. They did not want to make the 2010 Games about Vancouver; they wanted to make the Games about Canada. Those non-believers were soon swayed in a wave of pride that swept across the nation, which Furlong believes was “far beyond anything Canada had ever experienced before”. However, trying to engage the minds of people across such a vast country is no mean feat. Therefore VANOC went about slowly and surely spreading the Olympic message across the nation. As well as travelling the length and breadth of the country over several years, volunteers came from every province and territory to work at the Games, with VANOC holding additional contracts with each of the regions. The Games wanted to move away from the typical Olympic focus on
WHAT THE WORLD SIMON PEACH reviews the lessons from the 2010 Winter Games in Canada
a city or, at best, a region. Organisers were keen to use the power of the Games to bring the country together. “To make this not about the few, but the many,” said Furlong. “The goal was to give the country something that every Canadian could feel like ‘we didn’t watch that, we shared in it and it was ours. We’re partners in it’. “Otherwise the challenge you have is the possibility this will be no more than a great sporting occasion that will very quickly evaporate and diminish. “People could just say ‘it was wonderful, we had a great time, we won a lot of medals, but what’s next?’ However, people here today are still feeling euphoric.” Togetherness Crosby’s winning goal for Canada in the ice hockey final was a particular highlight for Furlong, who sensed that 34 million Canadians were urging the puck into the net. “There was a feeling that everybody in Canada had been a part of something pretty profound,” he said. The substantial impact on the nation made the Games “relevant at the kitchen table”, with VANOC relying heavily on the media.
Host broadcaster CTV became a partner of the Games in the broadest sense. Aside from bringing the Olympics to every home in the country, CTV also introduced team members to the viewing public in their local communities to enhance the feeling of loyalty. Furlong believes this helped to create a positive energy so it was “like the anticipation for a great movie that was coming out that everybody wanted to see”. This level of awareness helped the country to record stupendous viewing figures, with the most striking being that 99.1% of Canadians watched some of the Olympic Games. “We worked very hard to build that energy otherwise it could have very quickly diminished into something exciting but only in the city of Vancouver,” said Furlong. “So we had this going on and it was going in every community in the country.” Each day’s events were also tagged around one of the provinces with, for example, the opening day of the Games being ‘British Columbia Day’ and the next day being ‘Ontario Day’. This togetherness has become one of the key goals for the organising
committee for the 2012 London Olympics (LOCOG). “At times it felt as if the whole of Canada was joining in, with streets full of excited fans singing and cheering,” said LOCOG chairman Lord Sebastian Coe. “Canadians clearly loved being part of the Games and took every opportunity to show the world how much they meant. “As a Londoner, I know we will do the same in 2012, and we are determined to excite and inspire Londoners so they feel part of everything we do. “The Live Sites – the big screens in prominent places in Vancouver – were a great way of bringing people together to celebrate. “Some of the best parties downtown were at the Live Sites where thousands turned out to watch the action and join in the fun at these little ‘theatres’ created by sponsors. “One of our major areas of learning was how important these big screens were, and what an important role they can play in capturing the imagination of Londoners outside the venues.” Despite there being obvious differences between the Summer and Winter editions, London had no qualms about using the Vancouver Games to compile as much
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information as possible. Around 50 members of LOCOG headed to Canada on a fact-finding mission, while Metropolitan Police officers were even embedded with the Canadian security forces. “Our team learned a huge amount about sport and the ‘field of play’ in Beijing in 2008,” said Coe. “In Vancouver, we focused on Games-time operations, on how the city functioned during the Games, and how the enormous logistical challenges were delivered.” Coe is also aiming to replicate the sold-out competition venues at the Vancouver Olympics. Approximately eight million tickets will be available for the London Games, with another two million on sale for the Paralympic Games. “The venues were packed and they were full of the right people - real sports fans with knowledge of their sport, and fans who were not just passionate supporters of the home team but generously supported every competitor, whether Canadian or not,” said Coe. “This is what we want for London 2012 - stadia packed to the rafters with people of all ages who simply love sport.” So how did VANOC succeed with ticket sales? “We had a plan to get every seat filled and that plan’s origins were in Torino (at the 2006 Winter Games) and Beijing (at the 2008 Summer Olympics) where empty stadia were fairly common,” said Furlong. Plan The plan was to establish a feeling that the country had a team that was worth supporting, and “if you went to a stadium to watch them, the chances were you would see a winning performance”. Canada went on to become the most successful ever nation at a Winter Olympics by winning 14 gold medals. VANOC tried to build a “competitive environment” around ticket sales whilst embracing modern technology. The organisers knew from previous hosts that even though mass blocks of tickets may have been bought, the seats would not necessarily be filled come the event. “We created a brokerage operation where people who had tickets, but ultimately couldn’t or wouldn’t use them, could resell them through an entity that we developed,” said Furlong. “It became extremely popular and it was financially rewarding to do it, and it gave us a pretty good shot at making sure there was a body in every single seat at almost every event.”
Furlong admitted it would have been difficult to create the impression that an event was important if the stands were only half full. The system worked as tickets eventually sold out. However, even those unable to get hold of the tickets were still able to feel a part of it, according to Walt Judas of Tourism Vancouver. “If I had any advice for future host cities, just make sure that everybody has some kind of access and can enjoy the Games experience,” he said. “I always said to people in advance, ‘even if you don’t have a ticket to any event, it’s still worth it to come and experience the Olympics’.” Working with other tourism organisations, Tourism Vancouver put a large emphasis on the visitor service side to make sure people got “the kind of experience they were expecting”. Judas added: “What we learned from previous Olympic destinations is that the sporting events, generally speaking, will come off without a hitch because there is so much planning, effort and money that has gone into that. “However, 90% of a person’s experience around an Olympics is what happens outside of the competition because it’s not like you’re going to events all the time. “You might go to one event and the rest of the day you’ll be spending your time eating, touring, taking in attractions and just experiencing the city, so we needed to deliver on that experience and I think we did in a major way. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city in such a festive mood. The visitor experience was a huge part of what made the Games successful.” That success is already having an impact on the region, with visitor numbers anticipated to increase by 4% this year. Challenges However, for the many successes, VANOC had to hurdle numerous challenges. Arguably the most pressing obstacle emerged three weeks before the start of the Games when it became clear to the organising committee that the worst possible weather conditions were around the corner. “In the previous 100 years we had not seen a weather pattern like the one we were having,” said Furlong. “However, that didn’t give us permission not to perform at a high level so we had to find solutions and a way to overcome that challenge of no snow and warm weather.” To tackle the potentially devastating problem, VANOC had to rethink some
of the engineering of the courses on Cypress Mountain and find locations some more than 100 kilometres away - with compatible snow. “It was very difficult but we simply had to find a way to do it,” said Furlong. “It was not something we thought we would be confronted with, but when it happened within the organisation we had a resilience and a culture of not letting this sort of thing set us back and we managed to pull it off.” According to Furlong, VANOC already “had the culture in the company to do the work”, and the financial pressures brought on by the worldwide recession in the build-up to the Games certainly helped to nurture a resilient attitude. “It affected us in every way you can imagine, except that it did not affect us immediately,” said Furlong. “As the world economy went over a cliff, we saw the impact it was having and saw the behaviour of many of our partners trying to deal with the fall-out. “We realised that we were going to start to be affected and something could happen to us. We needed to start rethinking all the ‘what if’ scenarios we could be confronted with. “So basically we started to recalibrate the way we were managing the organisation. “We took the company, turned it upside down, we shook it and everything that didn’t matter and wasn’t vital to the interest of the Games fell out. “If it was possible later to put some of the stuff back, we did, but for the most part we tried to make sure that we were not doing anything at all that wasn’t necessary in respect of delivering a great Olympics. “We did this throughout the company, from the ceiling to the floor. Every single person who came to work at Vancouver 2010 for a period of about 18 months had the added responsibility of trying to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less.” VANOC also worked tirelessly to ensure partners realised that their agreements went beyond simple branding exposure. “We tried to make each of the 150 partners take the position that they were not marketing partners, but they were helping us put on the Olympics,” said Furlong. “Each of these partners were contributing something to the bigger culture.” Partners One of these partners was Nussli, a Swiss company that specialises in the construction of temporary structures for events, trade fairs and exhibitions.
The company built all of the Olympics’ temporary grandstands, platforms and podiums for venues in Vancouver, Whistler and Cypress Mountain. Following successful projects for the Sydney, Athens, Torino and Beijing Games, the contractor used all of its Olympic expertise to overcome the punishing conditions and assembly challenges. “The Vancouver Olympic Games were an enormous overlay project for Nussli,” said Martin Blackburn, the company’s Vancouver general manager. “Our assignment included servicing both the bleachers and scaffolding installations for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. “All in all we were involved in 12 construction sites, with thousands of seats having been installed in temporary grandstands in the mountain and city. “In addition, we constructed more than 600 commentator and media positions as well as integrated camera platforms. “On Cypress Mountain, on an extremely difficult and hard-to-access terrain, we installed the highest grandstand that Nussli had ever built, measuring a total height of 36 metres, while we also put together a 720 square metre stage for the medal ceremony in Whistler Village. “As the stage was used for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, it was fully accessible to disabled people. “We are proud that with the Olympic Games in Vancouver we were be able to continue our tradition as a supplier of temporary facilities for the world’s largest and most important sports events.” Nussli was also responsible for the removal of all temporary event infrastructures following the Games. Some of the materials have been allocated for use in the construction of the Empire Fields temporary facility at Hastings Park in Vancouver. The 27,500-seat venue will serve as the home of the BC Lions Canadian Football League team and the new Vancouver Whitecaps Major League Soccer expansion franchise while a retractable roof is installed at BC Place Stadium. Nussli also recently signed a collaboration deal with Visit London to provide event infrastructure consultation and planning services. Nussli’s UK division will support Events for London, a partnership between the Major of London, the London Development Agency and Visit London which has been set up to attract major sporting and cultural events to the British capital. Over the next year, Events for London will support the London Mayor’s Office and the Olympic Park Legacy Company to make key decisions regarding events
‘On Cypress Mountain, on an extremely difficult and hard-to-access terrain, we installed the highest grandstand that Nussli had ever built, measuring a total height of 36 metres’ for the London Olympic Park and its venues. In supporting Events for London, Nussli will refer to its experiences in Vancouver, where it was more than just an associated name and instead a vital component of the hosting of the Games. Teamwork The company’s close relationship with the organising committee was typical of the group mentality that helped VANOC to overcome potentially disruptive issues. This teamwork led to the “most successful Olympics ever,” according to Rene Fasel, who heads up the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations (AIOWF). Fasel admitted that he may have been a “little too happy” at the time of the statement following the ice hockey final, yet he still maintains VANOC set a glowing example of how to come together as an organising body. “It is easy to face the challenges you can have during the preparations of the Games if you work as a team,” he said. “You are all in the same boat and you always go in the same direction. “At the end, when you see the legacy, it was really well done.” The International Olympic Committee Executive Board member added that such teamwork should be replicated at future Games, with accommodation, transportation and security always producing budgetary challenges. “There weren’t big issues with the budget in China, but in Canada I would say it was one of the biggest challenges,” said Fasel. “During the preparation, the prices went up like crazy. We even had to ask the Government for money to finish the
venues because the prices went up (so much). “It was very difficult to control as you make the budget about nine years ahead of the Games. “It was very difficult, especially with the prices going up in 2005 and 2006 and then the worldwide financial crisis in 2007 and 2008. “The Canadians did really well to face this challenge. It was not easy, but they did it.” Future LOCOG chief executive Paul Deighton is well aware of the potential financial pitfalls of the Games, with the budget having featured high up on a list of five key focus points for the coming 12 months. The four other points centred on the Paralympics, working with partners to ensure a co-ordinated delivery, the venues and getting in touch with the rest of the country. Meanwhile representatives of Sochi, the Russian host city of the 2014 Winter Games, also went on a fact-finding mission to the 2010 Games. The Sochi organising committee returned from a three-month stay in Vancouver with “valuable and unique knowledge”, according to president and CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko. “We are setting a high bar for introducing new standards across all functions relating to Games preparation,” he said. “The experience gained in Vancouver has already been integrated in the organising committee’s operational plans. “We were able to assess the current challenges that face organisers and integrate certain scenarios in our plans for the 2014 Sochi Games.” With Sochi four years away, the world’s attention will first turn to London. “We’re feeling pretty good about what just took place and I think the potential in England is fantastic,” Furlong concluded. “Watching the team from London and hearing what they had to say, I think they had a good experience. I hope it helps them to think through all the things they have to worry about when putting on a Games. “There are always detractors who are anti-Olympics or people who think it is a big show and a waste of money for a two-week party. “However, once a host city, always a host city. I know that Calgary, which had the Games 22 years ago, is still riding the wave of hosting the Olympics. “We wish London the very best and we will be looking forward to sitting in the bleachers and watching them perform in a couple of years’ time.”