It was inevitable that the one-year anniversary of the 2010 Olympics would rouse a nostalgic response. And it was just as foreseeable that Vancouver would become the epicentre of much of the reminiscing, with reporters flooding the streets in search of people willing to share their favourite memories of that magical time.
You won’t find many people here whose recollections of the Games are not wrapped in wistfulness and longing. And yet there were stories this week that certainly provided fodder to those who insist the Games were a waste of money and that the pursuit of the Olympic motto – Faster, Higher, Stronger – may have cost an athlete his life.
It was announced that condo prices at the former Olympic Village are going to be slashed, all but assuring that the city of Vancouver is going to lose tens of millions of dollars on the project. Meantime, there was an onslaught of media coverage of an e-mail that former VANOC CEO John Furlong wrote in March, 2009, in which he expressed concern about the safety of the sliding track on which Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died. The vast swath of stories inferred that a zest for track speed took precedence over the well-being of the athletes.
If nothing else, both stories certainly helped dampen celebratory spirits in some quarters and perhaps served as a reminder that tying a pretty red bow around these Games and saying everything about them was wonderful and perfect and life-affirming will never be possible. Nor should it be.
I have been asked to share my own favourite Olympic memories over the past few days. I certainly have a few. If you are fortunate enough to get to cover the Games as a member of the media, you often do get that proverbial front-row seat to history. And so I will never forget being in the arena when Sidney Crosby scored The Goal. I thought the Opening and Closing Ceremonies were two of the greatest theatrical productions I’ve ever witnessed.
But the best Olympic event didn’t take place on the side of a mountain or inside an arena. The best venue, by far, was the streets of downtown Vancouver. If you had a chance to be there, you certainly experienced the highlight of the Games. The streets really did become rivers of deliriously happy people. And it was impossible not to recall unhappier times 16 years earlier, when many of the same boulevards were filled with rioters upset about the outcome of a hockey game.
If I could somehow magically transport myself back in time, it wouldn’t be inside what is now Rogers Arena at seven minutes and 40 seconds of the first overtime in the gold-medal men’s hockey game, it would be at the corner of Robson and Burrard a half hour later.
There has been a lot of discussion this week about the legacy of the Winter Games and whether they changed Vancouver, changed the country. I’ve been asked about this myself. The easy answer is yes, the country has a new self-assurance, a swagger it didn’t have before. And that the city of Vancouver, once an awkward adolescent beauty, blossomed into a sophisticated young woman almost overnight.
But honestly, how do you measure that? If you take a poll, probably a majority of people would say we now have more confidence. But I’m not sure of that. It’s such an ephemeral concept, such a difficult thing to gauge. But do we need to gauge it, need to know if it’s true or not?
For me, the Games were worth it. They accelerated big projects like the Canada Line that have brought huge benefits to the region. Tourism numbers are way up. The results on the field of battle proved we can compete, and out-compete anybody, if we put our minds towards it – and some money too.
And down at the Vancouver waterfront today sits a funky looking sculpture that was once lit for 17 days and helped make the area around it a daily gathering place for a small village of people. It gave off a glow that both warmed and cheered Canadians in a profound way.
Because of the sheer numbers of people who mobbed around the Olympic cauldron, it brought us together, quite literally. And in the process, it became a symbol of the uncommon shared experience in which we were taking part.
It will always be a reminder of an incredible moment in our nation’s history, and in this city’s. And of the beautiful party that broke out on the streets, the likes of which we may not see again for some time.
As legacies go, that’s good enough for me.