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John Furlong Appreciation Thread

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It's being called a historical moment for Canada, much greater than the two World's Fairs held at Montreal in 1967 nor Vancouver 1986 nor the two Olympics at Montreal in 1976 nor Calgary 1988. The tapestry of Canada is vast, but these Games fused our country's small people into something bigger, something grander, something more. We were small, but we were made so big. There has been a euphoria here, and a change. Something has happened, and it's not just in Vancouver, it's all over the country.

Some called it a new Canadian patriotism, and perhaps that was part of it. These Games were certainly embraced on a staggering scale, from the flood of happy humanity in Vancouver's streets, to the crowds that lined up for 8 hours to experience anything that had to do with the Olympics, to the millions of people across this country huddled around their televisions like they were prehistoric fires.

Patriotism is not about licensed apparel; one is a cause, and the other a symptom, and I feel like saying this was a new patriotism is too simple. We have always been proud of this grand experiment, proud to be Canadian, proud of who exactly we were. I feel like this was not just a flowering of the Canadian heart, but a revelation of it. It had always been there, beating away. We just decided to let the world see it. And we let ourselves see it, too.

On behalf of all Canadians, Thank You John Furlong. And to the late Jack Poole, this could not have been possible without you as well.

Vancouver Games ultimately inspired a nation forever

More than 30 years ago, John Furlong was asked to "make us better". And he did.

By Jeff Lee, Canwest Olympic Team

February 28, 2010 9:02 PM

VANCOUVER — When Vancouver won the 2010 Winter Olympics seven years ago in Prague, John Furlong said “today we have absolutely moved a mountain.”

By the time the 21st Olympic Winter Games had ended Sunday it was clear that he had moved a country.

Canada’s wondrous 3-2 win over archrival United States in men’s hockey left a country delirious with glee as Vancouver closed out a Games marked by both astonishing highs and the deepest of tragedies.

This was a Games that got off to a dark start with the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, and moved into shaky ground plagued by little missteps and uncooperative weather.

But it finished in a crescendo of cheers from red-drenched crowds that poured into streets across the country after Sidney Crosby punctuated sudden-death overtime with a goal that not only gave Canada the country’s 14th gold medal, but a license to party for years to come. And if that was not enough, the closing ceremony a few hours later in BC Place left the city and the country sated, believing there could be no better way to close out an Olympics than with hometown gold on all fronts.

Joannie Rochette, the figure skater who lost her mother and then rose through the grief to win a bronze medal, carried in the flag in for Canada. When her Canadian teammates came in last, the stadium erupted in thunderous applause and cheers.

But it started with the way the Vancouver organizing committee righted a wrong, making fun of itself as it fixed the wonky fourth leg of the indoor cauldron that had denied Catriona Le May Doan her opportunity to light the cauldron with Steve Nash, Wayne Gretzky and Nancy Greene Raine at the opening ceremony.

With a miming worker throwing the chicken out of the gears and then pulling the leg up manually, the crowd erupted in elation as Le May Doan rose up out of the floor to light the cauldron, four legs and all.

This Games saw the miraculous home-soil victory by Alex Bilodeau in moguls, ending Canada’s at-home gold-medal drought, a pair of gold medals in short-track by Charles Hamelin, Clara Hughes’ career-ending bronze in speedskating, the fractional gold-medal race by Christine Nesbitt and the nose-ahead gold in parallel giant slalom by Jasey-Jay Anderson.

The surge of Canadian patriotism quickly signalled a turnaround that even International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said was undeniable.

“I think I don’t have to give you any description of what happened on the streets here. What happened was fantastic,” he said in an interview. “This is much more than the city’s Games. It is not Vancouver’s Games. It’s Canada’s Games. Canada had embraced the Games even before this but Canada will come out with more pride at these Games.”

For Furlong, who moved to Canada from Ireland in 1974, this was everything he wanted when he took on the job, and as he closed the ceremony, he said his country is different now.

“The time has come to say goodbye to say thank you and to perhaps compare for a moment the Canada that was to the Canada that now is. I believe we Canadians tonight are stronger, more united, more in love with our country and more connected with each other than ever before. These Olympic Games have lifted us up. If the Canada that came together on opening night was a little mysterious to some, it no longer is.”

In the end, despite worries by the Canadian Olympic Committee that somehow the country’s athletes wouldn’t “own the podium” despite a $110-million development program, they came away with more gold medals than have ever been won by a country at Winter Games. And in the process, they discovered that if they didn’t own the total number of medals, they instead owned a nation of well-wishers and new-found patriots.

Yet for all the wonderful things that happened at the Olympics, Rogge said no one would ever forget the terrible accident that killed Kumaritashvili.

Furlong, from start to finish, was the man who led Vancouver’s bid and saw it to execution. Brimming with a passion for sport and a patriotism for his adopted country, he tried to ignite a country around the belief that the Olympic ideal is a metaphor for life. Sometimes he seemed to border on maudlin, if only because Canadians aren’t used to speaking of patriotism and passion and sport all at once.

But his message carried, and no more so than with Jack Poole, Vanoc’s late chairman, who mentored Furlong until his death of cancer last October. In the process Furlong became one of the very few people to see a Games from start to finish, avoiding the political knives that on occasion have felled other Olympic CEOs.

“John Furlong had a grand vision. So too did Poole. There were those of us who thought it was too grandiose, that it wouldn’t come off,” said Ken Dobell, former B.C. bureaucrat and member of Vanoc’s board of directors. “In the end, they were right and we were wrong.”

Wide public approval for the Vancouver Games seemed at first slow in coming to Vanoc, which sometimes risked alienating them because of financing demands and a move toward less transparency than what taxpayers had expected.

Polls over the years showed generally people supported the Olympics, but pinpointed a concern that the Games might not deliver long-lasting benefits to Vancouver, British Columbia and the rest of the country.

The revised $580-million construction budget and $1.78-billion operating budget left people worried about the kind of debt that had saddled Montreal after the 1976 Olympics.

Even though Vancouver organizers had fulfilled its promise to open the venues two years in advance, had raised a record-setting $760 million in Canadian corporate contributions and sold millions of dollars more in merchandise than it projected, people worried about the spectre of another Montreal Olympics with its “Big Owe” stadium that nearly bankrupted the city.

But that appears to be only a wisp of smoke in the air, with Furlong saying his Games appear well on the way toward a balanced budget.

There was also a small but nascent group of people opposed to the Games and who questioned Vanoc’s efforts to concentrate commercial rights that could be seen to limit free speech. That group was knocked off its message on the second day of the Games when an even smaller group of self-styled anarchists called the “Black Bloc” vandalized cars and the Hudson’s Bay store and were disbanded by crowd control police. The protesters never re-emerged.

What did emerge, however, was a uniquely Canadian form of patriotism, with tens of thousands of people, many dressed in flags or with faces painted red and white, wearing those ubiquitous red mittens, flooding into the downtown core. Most wanted to see the waterside Olympic cauldron at the Vancouver Convention Centre, on a square named for Poole.

The outpouring on the streets surprised even organizers, which received a barrage of complaints for putting the cauldron behind a chain-link fence. After three days of criticism and editorials in newspapers across the country, Vanoc scrambled to move the fence and replace the most odious parts of it with Plexiglas. Even Rogge disliked the fence, calling it “the Berlin Wall”.

Organizers opened a rooftop viewing platform next to the cauldron, and was rewarded with long snaking lines of people who waited patiently for their turn to see the five-flamed cauldron from above.

That was perhaps the last time Vanoc received widespread negative criticism, save for concerns about the weather that damaged the Cypress Mountain snowboard and ski venue. But even then Furlong rallied the public, drawing sympathy for a crew of volunteers who spent a solid month on the mountain moving snow and building courses under some of the most challenging conditions witnessed at an Olympic Games.

There were many high points along the road to the Olympics, but perhaps none more sustained than the 106-day torch relay that began on Oct. 30 and stretched from sea to sea to sea. Through small towns and villages and larger cities scattered across the country, the torchtapped into a growing sense of Canadian identity and illuminated a patriotism that Furlong had wished for when he and his team borrowed the phrase “with glowing hearts” from Canada’s anthem.

He stamped that patriotism into our psyche with the red mittens campaign, which sold an astonishing three million pairs and raised $12 million in funding for Own the Podium.

This Games was also marked with a sea of blue as well, in the form of more than 18,000 volunteers who manned gates and moved snow and helped lost visitors find their way around town. There will be many legacies from the Games, from transportation improvements to better sporting venues.

But Rogge and Furlong believe that the volunteers and Canada’s woken patriotism are probably two of the best things to remember about the Olympics.

On Sunday morning, Furlong paid homage to both of those elements as he walked around the main press centre. Everywhere he went he looked for the blue jackets and to a person shook their hands, thanked them and told them they’d done a great thing for Canada.

And what of Furlong himself? What happens to him now? He won’t say. Bystanders have touted him for everything from the next mayor of Vancouver to an MP and even material for governor general.

Furlong will have nothing of that. “You stop that,” he said sharply to a reporter, with just a hint of mirth in his eyes. “You stop that right now. I am not going to run for office. I am not going to be Governor General.”

But this is Canada. After what he’s done with these Games, he could do it.

© Copyright © Canwest News Service

Olympic pride

For Irish-born John Furlong, Olympism is a way of life, and Canada is its perfect partner

Margaret Jetelina

John Furlong remembers his first day in Canada like it was a minute ago.

“I remember I got off the plane, walked up to a customs agent and gave him my passport,” says Furlong with little hint of his native Irish accent. “He said, ‘Welcome to Canada. Make us better.’”

Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, had never planned on spending his life in Canada. He had come to start up an athletic program at a Prince George school with every intention of one day returning to Ireland. So he was taken by surprise by the agent’s words.

“I had no idea what he was talking about. I wondered, ‘Does everyone get told this?’” chuckles Furlong. “I took from it that this is not a place where you come, enjoy the spoils, but not do something for your community,” he says. “And if you tried hard, you were rewarded for it.”

Furlong told this same story to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Prague when it was deciding who would host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games — Vancouver, Pyeongchang and Salzburg. “It gives you an idea of why this country works,” he explains. “Canada is almost the biggest country in the world for a very small number of people, but it’s successful. We have very successful cities. The standard of living is very high. This has happened because people have made it so. There’s this sense that if everybody makes a great contribution, you can do impossible things.”

The feat of hosting an Olympics may have seemed near impossible at times, but Furlong has always remained confident in Vancouver’s ability to succeed. “We are the people of the world here,” he says. “Wherever you’re from, people from your part of the world are here already, so coming here [is] like coming home,” explains Furlong.

Perhaps his deep appreciation for the way Canada works stems from originating from politically volatile Ireland. “In Canada, we find a way to resolve our differences; we don’t throw sticks at each other. Sometimes it takes time, but we do it. And that’s the example we can be to the world … through the Olympics.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that immigrants in Canada should abandon their heritage. Furlong proudly celebrates his Irish roots, enjoying Irish music, movies and sports. As for his non-existent Irish accent? “Oh, I can turn it on,” laughs Furlong, explaining that it only takes one hour with a cab driver from the airport in Ireland before his Irish lilt returns full strength.

Perhaps the most important legacy of his Irish upbringing is his love of athletics, namely Gaelic football, which he was introduced to “almost by accident.” As a child, Furlong’s father was a senior civil servant in the Irish prison system, and the family of eight moved from jail to jail, living right on the jail premises. “We moved from school to school and place to place.”

On his first day in yet another new school, a teacher stood over him and asked young Furlong if he played football. “And he inquired in such a way that the only answer I could have possibly given was, sure, of course I played.” Furlong was on the field the next day.

“And it went OK,” he says. “After that, I became almost addicted to athletics and competed in many sports.” He represented Ireland in football, as well as played basketball and European handball. Once in Canada, he started up squash.

He still remembers the first time he played. A friend had introduced him to the sport and, after beating Furlong, commented that squash was a game you could play even with bad players. Furlong’s competitiveness and determination drove him to become the Canadian squash champion.

“It’s very easy to underestimate people,” he says. “But if you give someone the chance and give them the right environment, people will astound you.”

The same determination he showed on the squash court also saw him through his first nights in Canada. “I suffered a lot from loneliness when I came at first,” he says. “I spent a lot of lonely nights, lots of tears. But the country was so accepting.”

And he showed his determined spirit again as the leader of Vancouver 2010. “The pressure on us [was] self-inflicted,” he says. “We decided that we wanted to do a better job; we wanted to be nation builders. Well, to do that, you have to push hard.”

And where mistakes have occurred since the start of the Games last Friday, he has been quick to take corrective action.

Furlong admits he can be pretty relentless. “When you spend your life in athletics, you’re never satisfied,” he says. “You can win the medal and finish first, but the first thing that crosses your mind after crossing the finish line is ‘I could do better.’ It’s just something that gets ingrained. I think a lot of us who have done OK in athletics have done so because not succeeding is so unacceptable.”

Not that Furlong isn’t familiar with defeat. “Oh, I’ve been knocked down,” he adds. He recalls one such defeat at a national football game in Ireland. With 90,000 people in the stands, his family watching, he says, “There were high expectations, and high expectations of me, and we lost.”

After the game, he went to thank his family and walked across the field to the change room, where a man and his son were standing. “He pushed this little fellow in front of me to sign his program. He looked up at me and said ‘I wear your number,’” Furlong remembers.

“I had not realized until that minute in my athletic career that you are supposed to try hard and give it your all, but people are watching you. So you can inspire them or not; you can make a difference or not bother. And I could never get that child out of my head.”

All eyes have been on Furlong again since the start of the Games, Feb. 12. “The kids [watching are] all full of hope and desire and inspiration of what it could mean,” says Furlong, who has five children and several grandchildren of his own.

“‘Olympism’ is a way of life: embracing the values of trust, honour, fairness, respect and decency. If our kids embrace these, they will perhaps be better leaders, and we’d have a better country,” he says.

“I think [the Games] are a chance for us to do nation building and leave a generation of young people better off. It’s a chance like no other, and we have to make the best of it.”

One of the best speeches I've ever heard...from the heart:

JOHN FURLONG'S CLOSING CEREMONY SPEECH

Excellences.... Chefs

Monsieur Rogge.... Membres du CIO

Monsieur le Premier Ministre

Chefs d'Etat

Les Premiers Ministres des Province

Maires et Mairesses

Mesdames et Messieurs

Athletes du Monde

Bonsoir - Good Evening

Nous sommes tous membres d'unde meme famille. Les Jeux Olympiques de Deux Mille Dix nous ont appris que nous ne sommes pas six millards d'individus.

Over these remarkable 17 days we have together demonstrated the remarkable powers of sport to the human world.

We have seen first hand that there is indeed a beautiful force that can unite, inspire adn liberate - a force that can replace despair with hope and ignite the human spirit

This force is sport... in the arena of the Olympic Games.

And because we had sport here - we too had peace.

Ces Jeux se sont deroules dans la paix, ils se sont deroules dans l'amitie.

But the time has come to say goodbye...

To say thank you... de vous dire merci.

And to perhaps compare for a moment the Canada that was with the Canada that now is.

I believe we Canadians tonight are stronger, more united, more in love with our country and more connected with each other than ever before.

These Olympic Games have lifted us up.

If the Canada that came together on Opening night was a little mysterious to some it no longer is.

Now you know us, eh!

If we were once the few we are surely now the many.

That quiet, humble national pride we were sometimes reluctant to acknowledge seemed to take to the streets as the most beautiful kind of patriotism broke out all across our country.

So many new and dazzling applications for the Maple Leaf - so many reasons to smile and be joyful.

Canadians, you joined each other and our colourfu international visitors in common celebration - radiant, jubilant, spontaneous, peaceful.

For us you were the wind beneath our wings.

You did not just cheer - rather you lived every glorious moment as if you yourselves were competing for gold.

You were the bench strength we had hoped for - the difference makers at these Games.

Alexandre, your first Gold Medal gave us all permission to feel like and behave liek champions. Our last one will be remembered for generations.

To the men and women in the blue jackets you are the undisputed heroes of these Games. The class of 2010.

A perfect team, you have behaved with great dignity, poured your hearts and souls into every task.

You smiled, you cheered and you filled the hearts of our visitors with friendship and good will.

For many of you who toiled behind the scenes no thanks will ever be enough.

YOu took on a stubborn mountain with all your might. The result, Blue Jackets-1, Cypress Mountain Weather-0

You were tested again and again and reminded us all every day that there is a force that can sustain itself against the full thrust of a determined human heart.

May your contribution here be worn as a badge of honour for the rest of your lives.

For you have, through your service, defined for all to see what it is to be a proud, generous Canadian.

To our many friends and trusted partners, we tip our hat to each of you for a magnificent contribution.

To our leaders, sitting over there, full credit for believing in and empowering this great adventure.

To those who built the venues, drove the busses, cooked the food and toiled day and night to complete a million tasks - may the success of these Games be your reward for all your days to come.

To the people of the host region you were magnificent - Votre contribution a ete magique.

To our international visitors you were gracious, thoughtful, spontaneous guests and spirited fans, merci bien.

To our security team for keeping us safe, you were in a word "terrific".

To the IOC, thank you for trusting us and investing so passionately in our success.

It has been our great honour to host the world and we thank you for believing in our vision, we did our best.

To our friends from Sochi we are in your corner and wish you every success in 2014.

To the people of Georgia, we are so sad and so sorry for your loss. Your unimaginable grief is shared by every Canadian and all those who have gathered here. May the legacy of your favourite son Nodar Kumaritashvilli never be forgotten and serve to inspire youth everywhere to be champions in life.

Athletes of the world, you promised you would play fair and you did.

At your hands and through your determination and tenacity we have felt every imaginable emotion. We have lived the agony and the ecstasy with you as if we ourselves were competing.

By your example you have injected hope into the lives of youth everywhere. Youth that will rise tomorrow ready to emulate you.

Boys and girls you will never meet now know that it is possible to achieve greatness through the power of a dream.

You have set the course for the next generation of great champions. You return to your homes as the best ambassadors we have for a better world. You are the future.

The youth of the world await your leadership and your example.

And finally to those who have watched us all over the globe, we hope you enjoyed these Games and the telling of our humble Canadian story.

The young men and women you sent here are coming home. You can be very proud of them.

The Games will have many wonderful legacies. I wish but for one.

That every Canadian child - be they from Chicoutimi, Moncton, Grand Prairie, Sqamish or Niagara Falls - will have the chance to grow up to experience the pleasure of sport - no one left out.

And that we of the global Olympic family will not rest until the right of every child to play across this planet is secured.

Good bye to you all

Comme le disait Robert Charlebois, Adieu, tu seras toujours mon plus beau souvenir.

Merci Beaucoup, Au Revoir

Vive le Canada

Thank you Canada.

Thank you Jack.

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I have to give it to John Furlong, for making his speech at the closing ceremony actually one of the highlights! (Loved his speech at the OC too).

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Usually hate CEO speeches at the Ceremonies - but Furlong did the business in both of them. Very moving - "proudest moment of my life", and in the closing he spoke the words Canadians were thinking.

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I'd never have guessed he was Irish.He certainly didn't sound it!

Wonder if his Irish accent is better than his French?? :P

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lolll...there are already calls in the public for John Furlong to run for mayor of Vancouver or even become the Governor General. His reply: "You will say no such things! Please stop." :lol: And he sounded pretty angry too.

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