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VANOC CEO calls on community to give its all

Less than 60 days before Olympics John Furlong inspires chamber crowd

Like a coach readying his team for the big game, Olympic CEO John Furlong is rallying the Whistler community on the eve of the 2010 Games.

As the keynote speaker at the sold-out Whistler Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday, Furlong urged Whistler to get on board. It's less than 60 days now before the Games begin, and before the world and its media descend on the resort community. And there's still much to be done.

"This is the time for giving it everything we have," said the passionate CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC). "The country is counting on us."

Everyone has a role to play, he said, be it volunteering or offering a much-needed bed for a volunteer, accepting and following VANOC's transportation plan, and completely embracing the spirit of the Games.

"Own a piece of this spirit," he urged.

Furlong spoke about how the Olympic Torch Relay, which began in Victoria at the end of October, has touched the wider Canadian community on its journey across the nation. It is now more than halfway through that journey. The torch is scheduled to arrive in Whistler Feb. 5 and then move on to Vancouver for the Opening Ceremonies on Feb. 12.

Furlong recalled his recent trip to Ottawa where the torch was allowed unprecedented access into the House of Commons, carried by 81-year-old Barbara Ann Scott. Scott is the 1948 Olympic figure skating champion.

Furlong said Canadians have been turning out in droves for a "couple of seconds of glow" from the flame.

While there have been detractors and critics of the torch relay and its cost in the longest domestic torch route in Olympic history, it is bringing Canadians together in support of the Games, said Furlong.

"No matter how hard you try to resist it, it won't let you," said the CEO.

"It really has had a unifying impact."

Whistler, in the thick of the planning, may not be able to tell how the 2010 Games are perceived elsewhere in the country but Furlong is convinced: "The country is standing up and cheering loud for what's going on out here."

He admitted that preparing for the Games hasn't been without its challenges and tough times, and sometimes the road to 2010 hasn't been easy. This year has been particularly challenging in the wake of the global economic crisis. It was, he said, a year dominated by trying to make the project fit within the available resources.

"We will deliver these Games for a balanced budget... We must," he told the crowd of more than 100 local business representatives.

Of all the things he has on his mind, Furlong said three in particular are top most. He wants to see the Opening Ceremonies set the stage for a great Games with that "wow factor" everyone will be talking about. He wants to see the athletes achieve what they have set out to achieve - reaching that longed-for podium. And he wants the transportation plan to go off without a hitch; everyone, said Furlong, has a role to play in ensuring that happens.

One of the key ways to help the transportation plan is to find the 700 beds still needed for volunteers in Whistler.

After the meeting Furlong explained how crucial those beds are to the organization.

"Every bed, every pillow, every couch - we need everything we can get," he said. "And so we're clawing our way through those numbers. It's much better today than it was.

"What we don't want to do is have to move people up here every day. It just adds too much complexity. It's more buses, more drivers, it's more costly. We don't want to do it."

In exchange for providing a bed, hosts will get free tickets to Whistler events.

The deadline to sign up is Dec. 21. Go to for more details.