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One year later...

Whistler reflects on the Games



Defining this "Olympic Legacy" ain't easy. It's as amorphous a concept as "success" or "sustainability," as intangible as that electric feeling flooding the village daily during the Games.

"Legacy." What does that even mean?

Well, for Whistler, it has less to do with new infrastructure and village-bound Olympic memorabilia than with how the town feels about itself one year later. What has always been a fervent, if self-conscious, belief in the community that Whistler is as great a place to live as any - hell, better than any - has been validated by showing the world a great time and showing off the goods in the process.

Whistler folk are as confident about their identity as ever, even if their economic future looks bumpy.

"Here we are a year later and people are still high as kite about the Games," John Furlong says. "I mean, it just doesn't go away and I think people like what they were living, they like how they felt and I think it left people with this confidence that they can do anything."

The former Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) CEO has just finished one of his Olympics-as-success speeches at the Whistler Four Seasons and now he's nestled up against the arm of a leather couch in the lobby, propped up on one elbow and fidgeting with his Blackberry. He's a far more withdrawn Furlong than with the crowd of 200 people half-an-hour before, and when a female stranger sidles up and says, "I just want to thank you again, and to let you know that my daughter was one of the first relay runners -" he sheepishly thanks her, avoiding eye contact. One gets the impression he's been dealing with this more than he's comfortable with.

"The optimum outcome was achieved," he says after she leaves. "We won the most gold medals. We won the hockey game and it was shown all over the world. All the partners played a starring role," he says. He pauses. "And for me, the country got what it wanted. The country was happy. To me, that was success. It was validation."

Yes, it was a gay ol' time. The village was one pulsing, good-natured throng of red and white. The streets of Vancouver were throbbing with an energy as raw as it has ever seen, may ever see. Every individual, whether in the city or in the mountains, seemed linked to a single heartbeat propelling each body to sway and shout and, by the end of the night, stagger on through the extravagantly lit streets in celebration.

It was never supposed to be about just Whistler or Vancouver. On the final day, when Canada won the gold medal hockey Game against the U.S., the streets of Toronto exploded in howls and screams, as they did in Calgary and Coal Harbour, Nova Scotia. The jubilation was linked to what was happening back in the lower left corner of B.C. by a quivering, vibrating thread that had been woven into the national identity from when Canada was awarded the Games in 2003 until it won that hockey game in February 2010.