Authors: John Furlong
INSIDE THE OLYMPICS THAT
CHANGED A COUNTRY
Copyright © 2011 by John Furlong and Gary Mason
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Cataloguing data available from Library and Archives Canada
ISBN 978-1-55365-794-1 (cloth)
ISBN 978-1-55365-795-8 (ebook)
Editing by Trena White
Jacket design by Jessica Sullivan
Jacket photographs: Portrait of John Furlong by Shannon Mendes;
background image by Randy Lincks/
All interior photos courtesy of the author, Jim Richards and
, except as noted.
executive by Vincent L. Chan
All torch relay photos by Jim Richards
Photo of Stephen Harper © The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward
Photo of John Furlong with Jack Poole by Kim Stallknecht
Distributed in the U.S. by Publishers Group West
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts Council, the Province of British Columbia through the Book Publishing Tax Credit and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund for our publishing activities.
and the Canadian spirit
ROM THE MOMENT
I woke up on Sunday, the last day of the 2010 Winter Olympics, I had a gut feeling that it would be historic. That 17-day-old knot in my stomach was gone. I’d had zero sleep, but on this day it just did not matter. Call it an old athlete’s intuition, but I liked Canada’s chances in the men’s gold medal hockey game.
Even though the United States had defeated us earlier in the tournament, I felt strangely relaxed and confident about the outcome of the rematch that would be played that afternoon. It was a game I had dreamed about even before we won the bid to host the Games in Prague, back in July 2003.
I walked out onto the balcony of the suite I had been staying in at the Westin Bayshore during the Games. As I had every morning since the Olympics began, I checked on two things: the Olympic cauldron at the waterfront and the weather. Today, as always, I was relieved to see the flame still burning. A clear sky made me feel even better.
Sometimes the entire Olympic experience felt like a dream, one I would wake up from and discover had all been a fantasy. This morning was no different. Had this experience really happened? So many days had felt surreal, knowing I was part of something so massive in scope, so dramatic in its telling, so important to entire nations. The biggest event ever to be organized on Canadian soil.
I could tell by the number of Canadians who were watching the Olympics on television and devouring daily accounts of the Games in the newspapers that interest was off the charts. A day earlier, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 80 per cent of the country had tuned in to watch the coverage. Those were never-before-seen-or-imagined numbers. Ecstatic Olympic broadcasters expected them to be even bigger for the gold medal hockey game.
Faceoff was set for noon.
Before the game started I had to attend a Vancouver Organizing Committee meeting to review the plans for the many challenges the final day posed. The team seemed energized, almost younger, and was certainly feeling more confident. Today would be huge for us. There would be 80,000 people cramming into two arenas for the hockey game and closing ceremonies in the space of four or five hours. Getting everything to start on time was going to take military precision and discipline. After that meeting finished, I had to attend a windup news conference at the Main Press Centre.
I was struck by how different the questions at the final session with reporters were from the ones I had had to handle a couple of weeks earlier, when the common perception, certainly among the British press, was that the Games were in trouble. Now many of those same reporters were writing that we had staged perhaps the best Winter Olympics in history. As press conferences go it was pretty much a love-in.
Shortly before 11
, I headed to Canada Hockey Place, where the game was being played. On the way I passed several downtown restaurants and bars, outside of which stood hundreds of customers clad in red and white, waiting to get in. I’m sure records were set across the country for the most beer ever sold on a Sunday.
By the time I arrived at the arena it was jammed with people wearing the now-iconic Team Canada jerseys. Even though it was more than an hour before game time, people were already blowing horns and chanting “We Want Gold! We Want Gold!”
This was the one event where I had hoped to be sitting with members of my executive team; it was the last day of the Olympics, and we’d been through so much together. This was going to be perhaps the most historic hockey game in the nation’s history. If we won, I wanted to be celebrating with the people who had become family to me over the last several years.
But I had been asked to sit with the big bosses, Dr. Jacques Rogge, president of the
, and René Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation. It was a request I felt I couldn’t turn down.
After taking my seat I reminded René of a conversation we’d had in 2002 at the Salt Lake City Olympics, when Vancouver was still bidding for the Games. It was the day of the men’s gold medal game, Canada versus the United States, which we would ultimately win. Imagine the same final in Vancouver, on Canadian soil, I told René at the time. It would be one of the biggest things ever to happen in the country. It would be one of the biggest things ever to happen to international ice hockey. René didn’t need to be convinced. I think from that moment on he wanted our bid to succeed.
While confident of the outcome of this Olympic rematch, I had some nervous energy to burn off so I walked to the concourse and decided to go looking for some Blue Jackets, the tireless volunteer army that had played a pivotal role in making the Games such a triumph. I wanted to thank each one of them for their incredible service. I spoke to as many as I could before it was time to drop the puck.
Everyone in the country wanted Canada to win, but there was more at stake than just bragging rights. The Games weren’t going to be judged a failure if we lost. I knew what we had accomplished, was aware of the unprecedented nationalistic fervour the Olympics had ignited across the country. But I felt winning would mean the difference between everlasting glory and memories of a wonderful fortnight. A gold medal would be Canada’s fourteenth at this Games, establishing a new Olympic record for any nation at the Winter Games, a record that would be difficult to break. Victory on this Sunday afternoon would also give the country what it most wanted: men’s hockey gold. A win would go down in our history as a uniquely Canadian moment that would be written about in books and talked about for generations. It was much more than just a hockey game.
By the time the puck was dropped the crowd was on its feet, chanting, making more noise than I’d ever heard in a hockey rink. Imagine a 747 revving its engines inside a hangar—that’s how loud it felt. All around me were adults and children screaming their hearts out. I could only shake my head in wonder at how sport could transform a cross-section of Canadians into a roiling unified mass of kinetic energy.
I knew nothing about hockey before arriving in Canada from Ireland. But I had quickly learned what the game means to people here. It was to Canadians what Gaelic football was to those back home. And the more I came to understand the game, the more I realized Canadians had rallied around a sport that defined them and their spirit. Hockey players are among the toughest, most fearless athletes of any sport. Canadians are among the most resilient and courageous people. In so many ways, the sport and the people who love it are a natural match.
Large parts of the gold medal game remain a blur to me. I had a million things on my mind, as I did most days during the Games. There was still a cross-country skiing race to get off up at Whistler. The closing ceremonies would be taking place just a few hours later. Getting 60,000 people into
Place Stadium was a massive undertaking. I worried about that. I had a speech to give as well and was fretting about how my French was going to go over.
So my focus wasn’t entirely there when Canada went up 1–0 in the first period and then 2–0 in the second. I couldn’t have told you who scored the goals at the time, but now I can, of course. So thank you, Jonathan Toews and Corey Perry. I will never forget, however, the sound in the rink when the pucks went in, the blast of the horn, the spontaneous delirium of the crowd. Jacques Rogge, normally so reserved and stoic, even cracked a smile. I thought that he quietly wanted Canada to win because he understood what it would mean, ultimately, to the Games and the place that would be reserved for them in the annals if the Olympic experience was capped off by hockey gold.
Before the second period was finished, however, the United States would make the score 2–1 on a goal by Ryan Kesler, whom I had often watched play in this building for the hometown Vancouver Canucks. Now he was the enemy, no doubt an odd feeling for him and the many Canucks fans in the rink that day. After his goal I felt the energy seep out of the crowd a little bit. I could sense the worry and dread but remained cautiously optimistic. René, in contrast, was absolutely delighted. “All we need now is another American goal,” he said during the second intermission.
“Another goal!” I screamed at him. “Are you out of your mind?”
“No, no, John,” he said, smiling. “It would be unbelievable for the ratings. We need this game to go to a shootout. That would be perfect.”
“No it would not,” I screamed. “Now you stop that right now, do you understand? We do not want or need overtime. We do not want a shootout. We want this game over, finished, and wrapped up, now.”
I spent most of the third period tightly clutching the edge of my seat. I wasn’t alone. I could hear my own heart beating—or maybe it was the collective sound of everyone else’s. The last minute of regulation time was pure torture. When the Americans’ Zach Parise tied the game with 24 seconds left, I closed my eyes and covered my face in my hands. Nearby, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was doing the same. I looked over at Jacques. His face was ashen. I looked at René. He couldn’t stop smiling.