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  • On the Scene -- Vancouver Olympic Debrief Opens with Somber Notes and Praise


    About 400 people – more than half from Sochi -- packed a hotel ballroom for the opening session of the debrief. (ATR)

    (ATR) The debrief of the Vancouver Olympics is in full swing, the highs and lows of the Games recounted in just the opening minutes of this gathering in the mountains of Sochi.

    Hundreds are assembled at a hotel in a place called Krasnaya Polyana, where the snow events of the 2014 Winter Games are to be held. Leaders of the IOC, Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 are the main players, but every other organizing committee is represented by its top team, as well: Singapore 2010, London 2012 and Rio 2016.

    First held after the 2000 Olympics in Sydney for Athens organizers, the debrief is meant to pass on the lessons learned from the most recent Games to the successor.

    The Vancouver Games were praised by IOC President Jacques Rogge and other keynote speakers who talked about the spirit of Vancouver and the way the organizing committee was able to face challenges.

    But Rogge also remembered by name Nodar Kumaritashvili, the luger from Georgia who died in a track accident the day of Vancouver opening ceremonies.

    “Although not formally on the agenda of this meeting, we will continue together with Sochi and the International Luge Federation and the International Bobsleigh Federation to take all the measures that are needed to avoid a tragic accident as the one that occurred on Nodar Kumaritashvili,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said Monday at the Grand Hotel Polyana.

    Minutes after Rogge’s speech, Rene Fasel, the IOC member in charge of the coordination commission for Vancouver, mentioned the accident in his opening remarks.

    When it came time for VANOC CEO John Furlong to speak he listed the tragedy among the key challenges VANOC faced during the Games.

    “The death of Nodar was an enormous blow, a day that none of us will ever forget. It was extremely difficult on our team, really difficult to get up after that particular moment,” Furlong said.

    “We managed to somehow get through that day.”

    Furlong mentioned the warm winter that melted snow on Cypress Mountain, bus problems, protests and a glitch in the opening ceremony cauldron-lighting that led to negative international media coverage that “evaporated very quickly as the Games began to build momentum,” he said.

    Furlong said constant challenges through VANOC’s life cycle included managing partner expectations, dealing with the relentless pace of work, and the “little things that went wrong” but were magnified. Ultimately, the global financial crisis was the biggest hurdle.

    “This was a show-stopper for many companies around the world, we

    Sochi IOC Commission chair Jean-Claude Killy acknowledges that Sochi faces challenges. (ATR)
    knew that we were going to have to be at our very best to overcome it,” he said. “In many ways it could have really put our project in serious jeopardy.”


    Furlong said, “we probably set a few things aside that we would rather not have” but the only people who noticed were inside VANOC.

    His best advice for Sochi and other future organizing committees was simple: “stick together, no matter what.”

    “Every challenge you face you can overcome. We found a way, somehow, with our friends to get through everything and I think if you do stick together, you’ll have a magical, wonderful experience,” he said. “We did.”

    Fasel acknowledged the boom and bust economic cycle was VANOC’s biggest challenge. He passed a Vancouver 2010 torch to Jean-Claude Killy, chairman of the Sochi 2014 Coordination Commission.


    Brazil 2016 director general Leonardo Gryner says there is plenty to learn from Vancouver to help a Summer Games. (ATR)
    acknowledged the support of Russia’s government, but listed the challenges unique to the Black Sea resort region.


    “The need for new infrastructure is of a different scale, massive investment is needed to transform the host region and make it a new and attractive winter sports resort. Experience in running major sporting events is also needed here,” Killy said.

    “No doubt, new infrastructure and new skills and your unique sense of hospitality will put your region on the world map.”

    The lessons of Winter Olympics apply to the Summer Games, too. Leonardo Gryner, the new director general for Rio 2016, tells Around the Rings he’s here with a team of 18.

    “It’s about details, of process, of organization. You think it will work one way, but then you end up solving it a different way,” he says about the exchange of ideas in Sochi.

    Sochi 2014 CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko tells ATR this is a valuable four days for his colleagues to absorb the most of what they can from Vancouver.

    “We are concentrating on the result of the last opportunity to gain the experience of the previous organizers and convert this into the best practices.

    “It’s very challenging because the Vancouver Games were perfect,” says Chernyshenko. 

    The Vancouver debrief in Sochi continues through June 10.

    Sochi 2014 hosts the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic debrief on June 11.

    <i>Written and reported from Sochi by by <a href="">Ed Hula and Bob Mackin</a>.

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