Cue the tedious CBC horn introduction. Raise the flags. Take the oath. Let the Games begin.
Love ’em or hate ’em; opportunity or white elephant, the Winter Olympics are coming.
That’s why Pique Newsmagazine is going to Torino, Italy. Starting this weekend we’ll be filing stories daily on our website www.piquenewsmagazine.com, from the events that Whistler athletes are competing in and from some of the events that Whistler will host in 2010. We’ll also keep be keeping a blog of impressions and anecdotes from the 2006 Olympics; how things are working, or not, and what lessons there may be for Whistler.
And next month, Pique will be doing the same when Torino hosts the Paralympics.
It’s a long road to the 2010 Olympics, one that Pique has been following from the bid’s beginning in the late 1990s, back when the Vancouver media kept referring to it as Whistler’s Olympic bid and people’s greatest concerns were the Sea to Sky Highway and the weather.
The Vancouver Olympic bid still had a relatively low profile in November 1998 when Pique went to Toronto for the Canadian Olympic Association’s (as it was then called) meeting to choose an official Canadian candidate for the 2010 bid. Calgary and Quebec City were the other candidates, and watching the three-way battle was a first hand introduction to the politics of the Olympics.
Calgary’s case for the Games boiled down to the fact that most of the facilities were still in place from the 1988 Winter Olympics so it wouldn’t cost much for the Alberta city to put on a second Games.
Quebec’s argument was that Olympic facilities were already in the west, in Calgary, so Eastern Canada should get the Games. Vancouver, Quebec bid supporters said, is a nice city but it just isn’t a winter city like Quebec.
Central to Vancouver’s case was the argument that it was the Canadian bid most likely to win at the international level.
After listening to all the polite sniping, the schmoozing and the presentations 72 COA members voted – 13 times. The votes weren’t actually counted for another week and a half because a provincial election was underway in Quebec and officials feared the COA vote could influence the Quebec vote. So COA members had to cast a vote for every possible combination of results, including ties: Calgary dropping off after the first ballot and a second round vote between Quebec and Vancouver; Quebec failing on the first ballot etc.
Of course some people in Toronto wondered why the COA was going through the whole exercise in 1998. Toronto already had the organization’s blessing to bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2010 candidates had all agreed to keep a low profile until the 2008 Games were awarded.
Arthur Griffiths led the Vancouver bid back in 1998, Glen Clark was premier and the plan for the Whistler athletes village was to house everyone in the Delta (now Hilton) Whistler Resort and the Westin, although the Westin wasn’t built then.
The bid and the bid team evolved over the next five years, and of course the provincial government changed. So by the time the official bid presentation was made to the International Olympic Committee in Prague in July of 2003 the lineup of politicians, sports stars and dignitaries shepherding the bid included Wayne Gretzky, Catriona LeMay Doan, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Premier Gordon Campbell and, leading the delegation, John Furlong.
If the COA meeting in Toronto was a lesson in Canadian politics the Prague meeting was international sport-politics at its highest level. Prior to the IOC vote the lobby of the Prague Hilton was like a Berlin café at the height of the Cold War. Clusters of two or three people were scattered around the giant room, engrossed in discussions over drinks they never touched. Each meeting was a final attempt to persuade one more IOC delegate to go over the wall and join Salzburg, Pyeongchang or Vancouver and be part of the winning team.
The Korean bid presentation may have stretched the sports-politics boundaries a little too far. A video portion of the presentation included a South Korean woman who could not see her son because he was in North Korea, the implication being that awarding the 2010 Games to Pyeongchang could somehow help re-unite the two Koreas.
The story of how Torino won the 2006 Winter Games over Sion, Switzerland following the Salt Lake vote-buying scandal is another bit of sport-political intrigue that may be explored in the next couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, we will endeavour to find lessons for Whistler and keep track of Whistler athletes in Piedmont’s Valle Di Susa and the mountains known as the Via Lattea, the last major stop on the road to 2010.