Gerhard Heiberg knows a thing or two about how to host a Winter Olympics. He organized and chaired the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics and he has helped evaluate the bids for several Winter Games, including Vancouver’s, for the International Olympic Committee.
He joined the IOC shortly after the Lillehammer Olympics, despite initial concerns about the IOC’s integrity.
Born in Norway, he has degrees in economics and business administration, and since 2001 he has led the IOC’s marketing committee.
Heiberg was in Vancouver and Whistler last week to evaluate how the organizing committee for the 2010 Winter Games is progressing as it moves closer and closer to the Games.
Pique’s Clare Ogilvie sat down with the avid winter sportsman during his visit to Whistler, which also included an update tour of the venues.
Pique: Why did you decide to visit Whistler at this point in the preparations for the Games?
Heiberg : (At the time of Vancouver’s) original bid I was chairman of (the IOC’s) evaluation commission and I felt that Vancouver was absolutely the best city and I had been to Vancouver a couple of times. But now I said to John Furlong (CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games) I would like to go and see whether you have kept all the promises you gave during the bid.
And I wanted to talk to the people (organizing the Games) since I have been an organizer myself.
I especially wanted to visit the Callaghan Valley because there was absolutely nothing there when I first came and I was thinking can this be possible, to build this Nordic centre. I had some meetings with the First Nations at the time and they were opposed to this and they told me this was impossible and… that we should not do anything in the Callaghan Valley.
But I felt it was a fantastic opportunity and I wanted to see what came out of this. Today I was there and I was really impressed and I feel you have done an incredibly good job. And also on the environmental side it was fantastic, so I felt reassured that the decision (to support Vancouver’s bid) was right at the time.
Pique: Take us back to that vote in Prague in July 2003 when Vancouver won the 2010 Games. What was it like?
Heiberg : It is not easy for the IOC members because a lot of them do not vote with their heads but with their hearts. At that time I felt Vancouver had the best concept and that Vancouver should win and I was surprised that Pyeongchang, South Korea, got so many votes. But Vancouver won and it doesn’t matter whether you win by one vote or 20 votes, so I was very happy with the result and felt that was the right decision.