There were a lot of people who benefited from Vancouver and Whistler hosting the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games - construction companies, VANOC workers, hotels, restaurants, bus companies, home renters, merchandisers, the athletes, communities near venues and amenities, Whistler employees on the housing list - but one group stands head and shoulders above the others when it comes to capitalizing on the Games: the media.
As a reporter, I can verify that the Games were a veritable gold mine for about 12 years, since the day in 1998 that Vancouver topped Quebec City and Calgary to become Canada's official bid for the 2010 Winter Games. The Vancouver bid then gut-punched a stunned Toronto - which lost its 2001 bid to host the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing - by winning its bid to host the 2010 Games on July 2, 2003. T.O. was set to bid on the 2012 Games and might have been a shoo-in, but now it will likely be another 20 to 30 years before the IOC will look this way again. How sad for the Toronto media, which will spend the next few decades covering strained municipal finances and the Leafs.
Once the Vancouver bid became officially official, every little detail of the production was instantly newsworthy, from fluff pieces like the announcement of the official mascots and plush toys to more controversial stories like the understated-then-overwhelming security budget. Conspiracy theories sprang up almost weekly - e.g. they're going to round up homeless people into concentration camps! - which kept the presses turning even at the quietest times. Remember the controversy and protest over the decision to route the Sea to Sky Highway through the Eagle Ridge Bluffs? That was awesome. And drawn out.
Whistler was especially interesting in the build-up, from complex land and tax deals with the province and First Nations, to five-plus years of highway construction, to the creation of legacies that we will be sorely tested to make self-sustaining over the next few years. Until the last minute it seemed that locals were still guessing whether the highway would be open and whether parking would be available anywhere in the resort. And everyone wondered how many resort employees would be kicked out of their homes by landlords looking to make a quick buck. There were so many interesting questions to answer that it was actually a challenge some weeks to find space for it all.
And if stories weren't about the Games directly, almost anything could be stretched in some way to relate to 2010. Rockslide on the Sea to Sky - how would that impact the Games if it happened during Games-time, and how concerned are the organizers? Polish would-be immigrant dies after being Tasered - is that any way to treat visitors? Vancouver skyscraper on hold - what will people visiting for the Games think when they see the empty hole in the ground? Homeless guy is homeless - is he homeless because of the Games, and will he find a home after the Games because of the Games?
Now that the circus has left town there are still assorted Games-related stories for us to write, for a little while anyway. Final budgets have yet to be released, Games-related lawsuits are still working their way through the courts, and Games venues will be hosting events for the foreseeable future that will attract slightly more attention than usual from our hockey-obsessed sports pages. And by virtue of hosting the 2010 Games, the 2014 Games are also in play for the media because the public will of course want to know how they compare.
But while the Olympics still qualify as news, the spigot has gone from gush to trickle. That means scriveners across this province have to get back to basics of reporting, if we can remember what they are. I'm not saying that Olympic stories were always easy or that no serious journalism has happened here since 2003, just that the Games were the topic that was always topical, a veritable fountain of stories and events that reliably pre-answered the "what" and "when" for reporters in the old "who, what, where, when, why and how" equation.
A quick search of the term "Oly" through our editorial archives turned up 430 items, "2010" turned up 52 items, "Games" turned up 111 items, and so on. And that's just the names of stories - if we could do a search for content and include all the stories, columns, letters and editorial cartoons that related to the Games in some way I feel confident in saying that we'd probably have over 2,500 pieces in our archives over the last decade.
The good news is that not having a steady stream of Olympic news to tap into will force media, myself included, to broaden our range and look for other compelling stories to report.
The bad news is that not having a steady stream of Olympics news to tap into will force media, myself included, to broaden our range and look for other compelling stories to report.
It was good while it lasted.