Vancouver raised the bar for Winter Olympics

Canada
may be claiming that they hosted the best Winter Olympics ever, but a more
objective view can be had from the likes of British journalist Mark Staniforth.

The
death of a Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, on the day of the opening
ceremony, operational issues early on and the controversially ‘Own the Podium’
campaign initially caused acrimony, but the second half was relatively
problem-free and positive, culminating in Canada’s sensational hockey victory
in overtime over USA to take their gold tally to a record 14.

Staniforth
works for the Press Association in London. Vancouver was his third Winter
Games, having been to Salt Lake City in 2002 and Turin four years ago.

“I
think overall these were the best Winter Games I’ve attended,” he said.
“Obviously, the luger competitor dying was something that you could never
extinguish from these Games and after a few false starts, some of which were
the organisers’ issues but others like the weather were unavoidable, overall it
was a far better Games than the last two, primarily because of the people and
the enthusiasm they showed. That counts for so much for the Olympics.”

Staniforth
reckons the Russians need to learn from Vancouver on how to engage the people
to energise the next Winter Games in Sochi. “I’m sure it will be a really
different Games because Russia is so different to Canada. If they can broadly
learn from what Vancouver’s shown then that will be a great Games as well. At
least there’ll be a lot of vodka!

“Security
will be more of an issue there, what with Chechnya not being a million miles
away. Once they get the balance right between the security and the party, it
will be okay. You could argue that Vancouver has been able to be quite lax
security-wise.”

Staniforth
covered the Beijing Olympics and now gears up for the London Games in two
years. Sebastian Coe, chairman of London 2012, was in Vancouver to glean
experience and learn from both the good things and the mistakes.

Staniforth
added: “I was speaking to Sebastian Coe yesterday and he said that he’s learnt
Canada’s aggressive pursuit for medals, which has been criticised a little bit
and he doesn’t see anything wrong with that. He says its borne fruit with the
medals tally. He says we could learn a lot from their pursuit of medals and
also the way Vancouver has embraced the public.

“The
one thing Coe has to try to do is somehow follow Beijing, which had an
unlimited budget and could do anything it wanted but at the same time didn’t
quite manage to engage the people. So if London can learn from Vancouver it
cannot beat Beijing but provide a Games that is so different.”

Canada’s
media criticised the Winter Games organisers for early problems and that was
exacerbated by the British press joining in. But Staniforth believes all Games
are fraught with unforeseen problems. He points out that Salt Lake City came
just after 9/11, Beijing had mass protests and Turin didn’t have a great start.
“Of course, the luger’s death will always overshadow these Games but the way
they recovered was absolutely marvellous.

“My
highlights in Vancouver were in the women’s skeleton when Amy Williams won
unexpectedly, especially when we thought a different female skeleton racer was
going to win. Amy came from nowhere to win it. There were no other British
highlights, but in terms of international performances, the women’s figure
skating was absolutely extraordinary. Kim Yu-Na and Joannie Rochette, of
course. The short track speed skating because it is completely insane.

“Another
reason I like the winter Olympics better than the summer is that it allows
people from countries like the Cayman Islands, the Snow Leopard from Ghana and
the prince from Mexico to compete. And why shouldn’t they be here? That’s the
great thing about the winter Olympics. It is so inclusive.”  

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