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MacGregor: Legacy of Russia’s Games still to be determined

That white elephant parading so slowly across the screen is Canada.

The voice-over, however, is talking about Siam, a country name no longer in use, and it is explaining the origins of the term "white elephant." To own one is a sign of great prosperity, though it has no practical use, is ridiculously expensive to maintain – and you couldn't give it away if you tried.

The footage now switches from the lumbering elephant to Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Built for the 1976 Summer Games, paid for over 30 years by long-suffering city taxpayers – and useless today.

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You do not expect a shot at Canada in the 2014 Winter Games, but there you have it: one swift kick in the country's cojones in a documentary available on OAO Aeroflot flights heading into Moscow.

The documentary is called Sochi's Legacy and, even before the 2014 Games begin, it wants to say what these Olympics mean and what they will have meant as history looks back. Just a bit pre-emptive and presumptuous.

But "legacy" is a popular word around these parts. They show the documentary while you are in the air and they hand you handsome, colourful booklets – "Olympic Legacy," "Building A Legacy Through Sport" – once you land and register.

So far, the Legacy of Sochi has been a downpour of Russian rubles.

Muskoka, it turns out, should have held out for the Winter Games rather than the piddling $50-million worth of "legacy" largesse the 2010 G8 summit brought to Ontario cottage country. Considering some $52-billion has already been spent on this Russian summer resort, Muskoka could have thrown up a mountain in Baysville, along with that state-of-the-art motion-detector outhouse.

The area around Sochi has been profoundly transformed even before the Games begin. There are brand-new parks with newly-planted pole-supported palm trees and man-made lakes. There are new highways and new sports facilities and brand-new building complexes that, once they get the hot water running and find some shower curtains, will serve as future hotels for those who will come here because they built it.

Because that's how the Olympics are supposed to work – even if it didn't happen in Montreal.

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"Creating sustainable legacies is a fundamental commitment of the Olympic movement," one of the publications quotes former International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge as saying. "Every city that hosts the Olympic Games becomes a temporary steward of the Olympic movement. It is a great responsibility. It is also a great opportunity.

"Host cities capture worldwide attention. Each has a one-in-a-lifetime chance to showcase the celebration of the human spirit. And each creates a unique set of environmental, social and economic legacies that can change a community, a region, and a nation forever."

Held up as the antithesis to the Montreal white elephant is the Olympic Stadium in Stockholm, still in good usage more than a century after it welcomed athletes to the 1912 Summer Games.

In fact, the Olympic Games are held up to be virtually nothing but good, nothing but great opportunity. Barcelona, Spain, it is said, became so popular following the 1992 Summer Games it rose to become the No. 3 tourist destination after Paris and Rome. The last Summer Games, in London in 2012, have created sports venues that will last for decades. The last Winter Games, Vancouver in 2010, created a "green" legacy that will inform future Olympics forever.

Sochi, it is claimed, will be at least as green as Vancouver/Whistler, B.C. Many of the sports facilities the 2014 Games leave behind will also leave – dismantled and reassembled in other Russian centres in need of a little legacy of their own.

It will bring a new spirit of volunteerism to a country where once you volunteered or else. It will leave behind a new university devoted to sports administration. It will leave a legacy of nature that will include massive protective park. Wildflowers will bloom, the world will come to see.

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It will, following the Paralympic Games that will follow, leave Sochi as the most-accessible city in the world, a salute to the 13 million Russians who must deal with disability. It will show the world the "New Russia" just as the 2008 Beijing Summer Games showed the world the "New China."

At the moment, the only "legacy" concerning Sochi has been media fear mongering (hopefully), not-quite-ready infrastructure, stray dogs and bizarre toilet tales – from the now-famous stadium "double-seater" to the "No Fishing" and "No Vomiting" symbols pasted in some of the venue water closets.

But there is no room here for negatives. Not a single event has been held and the Sochi Games are held up as a certain success and, fortune willing, perhaps they will be. "The Games are more than just an important sporting event," Rogge says. "Aside from the dreams and achievements of young athletes, the Games provide a setting for champions to sow the seeds for future generations.

"They also enshrine the social responsibility of ensuring that the host cities bequeath a positive legacy. The IOC is firmly committed to guaranteeing that this legacy is as positive as it can possibly be."

And as far away from the 1976 Montreal Games as possible.

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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More


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