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Canada Day stirs memories for Furlong

Spirit, pride that emerged during Games can be celebrated again

The 2010 Games and Canada Day will forever be linked for John Furlong, long-serving leader of the organization that put on the Olympics and Paralympics.

For on July 2, 2003 he and his team not only made their final presentation in Prague before the International Olympic Committee arguing that Vancouver and Whistler should host the 2010 Games, they won them.

"The memories are just two powerful and I don't ever want them to slip away," said Furlong of those moments in Prague.

"On Canada Day seven years ago we had gathered in Prague and as people here were wrapping up Canada Day we were already standing outside the hall in Prague preparing to make our final presentation.

"It is very special time of year for me, and for us I think.

"...Coming out of the Games I think we will see a lot of Olympic references across the country and I think people want to come outside and re-celebrate and re-enjoy what they found during the Games."

Furlong plans to celebrate the nation's birthday in Vancouver.

The 2010 Olympic cauldron, overlooking Coal Harbour, will be re-lit Thursday.

Whistler will be celebrating Canada Day over the weekend as well, part of a plan to leverage the celebration, a planning tool oft seen during the Games.

Whistler's planning and decision to stick to its vision as a resort may well have defined how it hosted the Games said Furlong, but it will be remembered for the amazing show of support it offered the world and the athletes in February and March.

"I think the coming out that happened in Whistler was remarkable and I think for everybody there... they became a convert and got wrapped up in the spirit and I think it left people gasping and wanting more," said Furlong.

"One of the most wonderful things for me personally was watching the athletes walk along the village to the (Celebration Plaza) and seeing the crowd on both sides. They were like an honour guard for the athletes, and I think the town really came out and showed itself with great class and style. If you were not happy that day I don't know what a person would have to do to make you happy."

Furlong believes Canada Day may never be the same after the success of the Games and the surprising and uplifting way Canadians embraced them.

"I think Canadians have found something; they have found that being a little bit more strident and confident felt good and I think as a country we came out of the Games a little different than we went in and I think that has got to be good for Canada going forward," said Furlong, who recently returned from both Sochi, host of the 2014 Winter Games, and London, host of the 2012 Summer Games.

The 45-member Vancouver Organizing Committee team spent a week in Sochi in June as part of information sharing set up by the IOC after the Sydney 2000 Games.

Unlike Vancouver and Whistler the Russian nation has to build and create massive infrastructure to host the Games - something that is well underway said Furlong.

A whole new community must be built for the alpine venues in the North Caucasus Mountains, as well as over 300 kilometres of roads, hydro power stations and more than three-dozen tunnels. Altogether there are over 70 construction sites.

"They have got an enormous task to get it done but I think they have a good spirit and they will get it done," said Furlong.

It is expected that the partners putting on the Russian Games will spend $30 billion on Games infrastructure.

Vancouver's Games had a $580 million budget for venues while the provincial government spent another $2.6 billion on Canada Place, the Sea to Sky Highway and a rapid transit line between the airport and downtown Vancouver.

Furlong said the agenda at the Sochi meetings was driven by a Russian agenda with a focus on systems and the problems faced by VANOC.

"If we had it they got it, and we gave them the benefit of our experience. We told them everything and if we thought we had done well or if we thought we would have gone back and done something differently we explained it to them," said Furlong.

One of the lessons shared revolved around the most unpredictable of Olympic partners, the weather.

Despite all the data and technology employed, said Furlong, Mother Nature threw them a curve ball that nearly caused a disaster - not enough snow at the Cypress Olympic venue for freestyle and snowboard competitions.

"It doesn't matter what your data tells you, be ready, be extra ready," said Furlong.

Another lesson lay in the fan to fan website set up with the intention of making sure there were no empty seats in Olympic venues and no fans unhappy they couldn't see an event.

But in May a Latvian crime ring was busted for ticket fraud estimated to be in the millions.

"...We just said to (the Russian officials) you have to always pay attention to the fact that while you are doing all these things and working hard and preparing with the best of intentions there is always someone who is going to try and take advantage of you and you need to be prepared for that," explained Furlong.

Even with all the lessons and a few moments of deep sadness, the Games brought an unknown joy to the nation. And Furlong, who emigrated from Ireland, hopes Canada Day will see that again.

"We have to face the fact that the country is happy, people are happy, we came out of this feeling very good about ourselves and sometimes that catches us a bit by surprise," he said.

"I am not sure we all thought that going in, but it certainly feels good that that was one of the results of the Games.

"Canada Day is just a great day because what you do is you wake up on Canada Day and you do realize that you are living in a very special place and this is a wonderful, wonderful part of the world to live in and we are all lucky. And it is good every year to stop and take a day and remind yourself of how fortunate you are and to share it.

"I think that is what Canada Day is, and does, and I am looking forward very much to having the day to savour it all."

This Canada Day people will be able to re-live the Games through a new hardcover souvenir book just published through the Vancouver Organizing Committee. Titled With Glowing Hearts, the 400-page tome is filled with emotive pictures, art and stories that capture the essence of the event.

"We wanted something that was a standout from the crowd and this is the first time that there has ever been a book that has made it to the marketplace after the Games," explained Furlong of the project.

"If it happened at the Games it is in the book. It isn't all about winning gold medals and action, there is a lot of drama, there is sadness and the joy of winning and losing, and the volunteers and the human stories and the gathering in the streets."

(The $85 book is available at Chapters, online and through independent book sellers.)