Vancouver sets bar high for future host cities to match Olympic atmosphere

By Stephen Wilson, AP
Monday, March 1, 2010

Vancouver atmosphere will be tough to match

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Top that if you can.

Amid the tragedy, the medals race and the hockey frenzy, the Vancouver Olympics will be remembered above all for the fervor and ebullience of its Canadian hosts.

For future Olympic host cities London, Sochi and Rio de Janeiro, matching Vancouver’s festive atmosphere will be a tough act to follow.

“The way Vancouver embraced these games was extraordinary,” International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said. “I’ve never seen anything on this scale before. This is really something unique.”

Rogge and other IOC officials were unanimous in their verdict that Vancouver delivered the greatest ambiance and public enthusiasm of any Winter Games since the magical 1994 Games in tiny Lillehammer, Norway. Vancouver’s joyous mood also has been compared with the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.

“Future organizers know that there is really a need to create this kind of big embrace,” Rogge said. “It’s something you can’t create on a piece of paper.”

Despite the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training crash on the day of the opening ceremony and a rash of glitches and weather problems in the first few days, Vancouver lifted the Winter Games to a whole new level.

The streets were filled with partying spectators, the venues were packed with cheering fans and the entire country seem united for two weeks behind a single cause.

“For the first time, the Winter Olympic Games are on equal footing with a Summer Olympic Games,” said Kevan Gosper, a senior IOC member from Australia. “When we look back, we can say Vancouver is where we could start comparing Winter Games with Summer Games and not just winter with winter and summer with summer.”

The Winter Olympics, which debuted in 1924, were given their own identity when the IOC changed the cycle to put the Summer and Winter Games in different years starting in 1994.

Next up is London, which will host the 2012 Summer Games, becoming the first city to stage the Olympics for a third time. London also held the Olympics in 1908 and 1948.

London’s project is based on renovating a downtrodden part of east London into a showpiece Olympic park. London’s West End and other areas should be a magnet for nightlife and party atmosphere. As in Vancouver, live sites will be set up around the city for fans to watch events on big screens and enjoy musical entertainment.

Sebastian Coe, leader of the London organizing committee, was particularly impressed with the full venues and public spirit in Vancouver.

“Not since Sydney have I seen a city embrace the games the way they’ve been embraced here,” Coe said. “My gut instinct is that is what these games will be remembered for. I haven’t been anywhere where there’s been an empty seat in the house. And the people look like they want to be there.”

In 2012, Coe said he expects around 250,000 fans to flock into the Olympic Park every day, and at least an additional 1 million people to come to the city for the games.

London is the next Summer Games after the spectacular Olympics in Beijing, but Coe and others prefer not to make any comparisons.

“We will never see a games like Beijing again,” Coe said. “That’s not typical of the way games are going to be delivered. You take from Beijing the extraordinary obsession with detail and eye for delivery. You take from Sydney the party atmosphere and here the party atmosphere and engagement. These are all things you need to bring together for a games.”

Gosper said Vancouver is more of a benchmark for London than Beijing.

“Beijing was a spike, with huge amounts of money thrown at the games,” he said. “It was a bit of an aberration. Vancouver has brought us back to the norm and provided a more realistic backdrop for London than Beijing.”

Sochi, a Black Sea resort, is hosting Russia’s first Winter Games in 2014. Organizing committee chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said Sochi will do its best to match Vancouver.

“The Canadian atmosphere here is electric,” Chernyshenko said. “That is exactly what we want to reach in Russia. We will do it with a Russian touch, a Russian look without the stereotypes.”

Another priority for Sochi is recruiting volunteers. Vancouver organizers brought in about 25,000 volunteers, who won rave reviews for their smiling hospitality. Russia doesn’t have a tradition of volunteerism, but is recruiting volunteers from all over the country.

Another crucial factor for future host cities: the success of the home team. Having never won a gold medal at two previous Olympics on home soil (Montreal 1976 and Calgary 1988), Canada piled up 14 golds in Vancouver — an all-time Winter Games record.

Most fitting of all was the way the Canadians got the record — beating the United States in the men’s hockey final 3-2 with a sudden-death overtime goal by Sidney Crosby on Sunday in the final event of the games in the sport Canadians love most.

“The games started out with a nightmare and ended up with a golden dream,” Gosper said. “The interest in the home country performance here was remarkable.”

Britain finished fourth in the medals table in Beijing and will hope for at least the same result at home in 2012.

“I can understand why a country would want to deliver the best-trained athletes at a games,” Coe said. “It’s not just important for domestic fortunes, it also sets the tone and style for the games and the excitement in those venues.

“Do we want to get great big British moments and a good haul of medals in London? Yes we do.”

By contrast, Sochi organizers are counting on a much better showing from Russian athletes. They had only three golds among 15 medals in Vancouver and finished sixth in the standings — the only time they have been out of the top five since the Soviet Union first competed in the Winter Games in 1956.

“I wouldn’t underestimate the Russians,” Gosper said. “Somehow or the other, I believe Sochi will rise to the occasion. But Vancouver has raised the bar very high.”

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