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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Assessing Vancouver 2010

So our athletes did great. But how good of a show did we put up? Below, I grade several aspects of the Games, using the following scale:
A = Excellent
B = Above average
C = Below average
D = Unsatisfactory
F = Failing

Venues: Things were pretty nice overall, but there was no exclamation point, so I start with a B. However, having competitions at Cypress Mountain turned out to be too audacious. Also, the ice track in Whistler should obviously have been safer. Still, the Georgian luger's death cannot be solely blamed on the organizers (the luge federation, track designer and luger himself must share responsibility), so I won't knock the grade down too much. C.

Security: Media from all over the world marveled at the non-intrusiveness and efficiency of the security apparatus. A.

Logistics: A few transportation glitches here and there (especially with buses early on), and a few minor ticketing issues, but nothing out of line with other Olympics. No significant technical problems with broadcasting (just a few occasional problems with timers). Good, but not great, website. B.

Non-sporting Organization: Slight lack of French at the opening ceremony, but adequate representation at the closing one, and great presence during the Games. Incredibly stupid arrangement for the Olympic Cauldron, but adequate fix found, with closer access to the flame than ever before. Embarrassing glitch at the opening ceremony, but brilliant recovery at the closing one. Up to now, not great, but OK.

All the live concerts and lively public gathering places are a nice plus. VANOC and the COC were also accessible and transparent. Outstanding Olympic village. So I'm tempted to give a B, BUT (and here I go on a 3-paragraph rant) -

I cringed at the response to Nodar Kumaritashvili's death. Suppose your clumsy friend Ronald falls on a knife and kills himself while helping you cook for a party, and his family inquires about what happened. Other people present are already telling the family that it's indeed your friend's maladroitness. What would you say? "I'm terribly sorry for your loss." or "I'm terribly sorry for your loss, but this was entirely Ronald's fault, and I reject any responsibility." VANOC opted for the latter. Perhaps it was for legal reasons, but couldn't VANOC have let the RCMP and Luge Federation do the talking about the investigation?

Also, publicly congratulating yourself that, after several days, you finally found a partial solution to a problem arising from an inexplicable brain cramp (the fence around the cauldron), is rather rich. Something like, "This is what we're doing. We're glad to have solved the problem, but regret that it was there in the first place. We hope that the public will like it" would have been much more appropriate (and Canadian) than "Aren't we great? We managed to move the fence, make a cutout, and allow people to go up an adjacent building in a matter of just a few days! This shows how adaptable and flexible we are." A stuffed nose could smell the insecurity from St. John's.

It wasn't just VANOC: Mayor Robertson also said in the middle of the first week, when all the glitches were going on and not yet resolved, that these were the best organized games ever. Ha! Try saying that with a straight face - especially at that point - to an organizer from Beijing, Salt Lake City, Sydney or Nagano. This type of childlike defensive attitude reflected poorly upon Canada, and unfortunately cast a shadow over VANOC's and Vancouver's legitimate achievements.

This explains the feeling in the international media that while Canadian organizers did a good job and met high expectations, they also appeared to be some of the most arrogant, graceless and thin-skinned people in the world. B for performance, F for optics. Given that actual performance is still more important, I'll average these out to a C.

Sporting Organization:
The ice resurfacing problems at the Oval were ridiculous. So even if everything else under VANOC's control (i.e. not counting the weather and the biathlon pursuit starting snafus, which were entirely under the control of the biathlon federation) went right, it deserves no more than a C.

Atmosphere: The Sydney Morning Herald said that Vancouver embraced the Games more than Sydney did. That's the best Vancouver could possibly have hoped for - no big city can match Lillehammer's magical ambiance. Given that Winter Olympics will probably be held in big cities from now on, no Games is likely to be as fun as Vancouver's for decades to come. Will the city carry this energy and shed its 'No Fun' label? A+.

Overall: 1 A+, 1 A, 1 B, 3 C's. The average is just below a B. The atmosphere, though, is probably the most important of these ratings, so I'll go with a solid B: above average. Canada and Vancouver did a good job. But despite what Stephen Harper says, we were not quite as good as Lillehammer (who can ever beat that?), and only matched Sydney in the 2nd week. That said, overall, we at least equaled, if not slightly topped, the better recent Games (Nagano, Salt Lake and Beijing, especially if you don't count the latter's ceremonies), all of which were a bit stronger organizationally, but not nearly as fun. And we were clearly better than the weaker ones (Atlanta, Athens, Turin).

So good job VANOC, Vancouver and Canada! But let's not congratulate ourselves too hard, so that we can remember to draw the lessons that we should.

(And to Britons: this Canadian understands that your media are always this vicious, and that if you screw up in London, we won't need to criticize - by the time we notice, your own journalists will probably have already eaten Lord Coe alive.)

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