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Up close with John Furlong

Vancouver Organizing Committee's CEDO outlines the coming year's challenges as 2010 draws near

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By Clare Ogilvie

Three years to go and counting. This year will see seven of the Olympic venues finished, the mascot unveiled, the ticketing plan announced, and the 2010 Vancouver Organizing Committee’s first sustainability plan revealed.

As the Games plan moves from planning to operations VANOC’s top gun, CEO John Furlong, offered some insights into how things are going.

 

Pique: VANOC unveiled its three year countdown clock this week. What does it represent?

Furlong: ...This clock will be a reference point for everybody who walks by it that this project is on a time line.... It will be the first really graphic example that this is all actually happening, that it is being built around us and that the City of Vancouver and the Municipality of Whistler, West Vancouver, and Richmond, that they are all fully engaged in this project and it will be a daily reminder that it won't be just like going about our daily business anymore.

I think it will be a reminder to everyone that we are all in this together.

 

Pique: How are you feeling with just three years to go until Games time?

Furlong : I feel good. I think the organization has a little bit of a spring in its step today. I think the focus is much more on the finish line now than where we started.

You can feel the project moving quickly today. This year we have a lot to do. By the end of the year we have to have our ticketing program pretty well ready to go, we have to have our volunteer program moved along quite a bit, we launch the mascot this year, and we will put out our first sustainability report in the coming month. As these things start to happen the project will just be more operational. People will have a sense of how the project is touching the community and touching others so by the end of this year it will almost feel like the Games are just a whisper away.

 

Pique: Moving from the planning stage of a Games to the operations stage can often be fraught with problems. How is VANOC planning for the transition?

Furlong: If you take Whistler as an example, all of the athletic facilities in Whistler will be completed this year, so there will be a very high degree of awareness of what this project looks like, and we will start the process of training people and developing a full understanding of how these venues have to be managed and run. We gave ourselves a lot of time so that we could hit the ground running (moving) from the planning phase to the operation phase.

It allows you to test everything. It allows you to create Games-time conditions of any kind and it allows you to do it over a period of time that is reasonable and rational…  So we can do a lot of scenario planning that you can’t do if you are putting the last bricks in place six weeks before the Games.

 

Pique: We have seen several changes to the venues plan since the bid phase including a move to NHL-sized ice, moving some Paralympic events to Vancouver from Whistler, and putting the speed skating oval in Richmond. Will we see more?

Furlong: Our view of this has always been that we don’t make any change that doesn’t make the project better, and we don’t make any changes without all the stakeholders involved being supportive of it.

Really these things happened because there is a better way to do it, or a new more creative way, or a more responsible way to do it. So I would not ever say never, but I wouldn’t say we have plans to make any changes.

 

Pique: Some would say that the heart of the Games is in the villages where the athletes spend their down time. Many athletes are already praising the 2010 villages. What are your thoughts on them?

Furlong: I believed that in the bid phase they were a diamond in the rough and today I believe they are a diamond.

The athletes are the ultimate judges of Olympic success and to wake up every morning and spend your time in these two locations, which are absolutely remarkably well positioned; I think it will be an experience far beyond anything that any athlete before has had.

 

Pique: What is VANOC’s vision for the opening and closing ceremonies?

Furlong: I’d be reluctant to say yet what the vision or message is because it is something we have to build collectively, there is a lot involved in that. This is a unique opportunity for us to do something unique in front of the world and we need to have the right people in place and we need to build that vision in a very collaborative and collective way and it takes time.