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What some original Olympics boosters are doing, thinking now

February 11th, 2010 · 28 Comments

While Premier Gordon Campbell, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vanoc CEO John Furlong are basking in the media sunshine these days, they were specks on the horizon when the idea of bidding for the 2010 Olympics first arose.  A line of others cleared the way for them, players whose roles have been in many cases forgotten. Among them: former premier Glen Clark, former Vancouver mayors Philip Owen, Larry Campbell and Sam Sullivan, former Whistler mayor Hugh O’Reilly, and the original corporate leader of the bid effort, Arthur Griffiths. Here’s a look at where some of the key earlier torch-bearers are now, what part they’re getting to play in the Games if any, and what they think of the event they brought to the province. You’d be surprised at who’s feeling uncertain about the event, who’s not going to any part of the Games except the opening, and who ended up getting a Games-related job.


The former premier of B.C. was the first politician to back the bid group with money, $50,000 in early 1998 to get them started. He’s also the man frequently credited with winning the Canadian Olympics Committee’s endorsement later that year of Vancouver as the country’s bid candidate with his passionate and emotional speech.

But last fall, he was hovering over his computer like any other British Columbian, waiting to find out whether he would get a chance to buy tickets to any of the events though the on-line lottery. Mr. Clark, now a senior executive with the Jim Pattison Group, put in for about $5,000 worth of tickets and then had a small moment of panic at the thought he might get everything he asked for. But he didn’t. Instead, the only event he was sure of going to until recently was a quarter-finals men’s hockey game.

“I don’t expect any special treatment,” says Mr. Clark. But he is going to get a little, it turns out after all. Two weeks ago, the premier’s office contacted him with an invitation for him and his wife to attend the opening ceremonies. He has also been invited to the International Olympics Committee’s opening gala on Wednesday.

Mr. Clark is mostly pleased that the Games have brought much of what he originally envisioned for B.C.: improved transit, jobs. But he is disappointed that local governments didn’t achieve more, especially for the Downtown Eastside. “One of my original thoughts was not just to leave a physical legacy, but also to create a catalyst for something more lasting. I don’t think it’s really accomplished what I hoped.” Although the province has done a lot to improve housing and jobs for the Downtown Eastside in the last two years, “I think they came in a bit too late in the game. It would have been better if they had started two years earlier.”


Philip Owen was the mayor of Vancouver when his council somewhat grudgingly agreed to support an Olympics bid. He was enthusiastic though cautious. But his councillors, dismayed by the uproar and security costs of a recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, said they were only in favour of the Games if they didn’t cost Vancouver anything.

Now, Mr. Owen, retired from politics since 2002 but an official ambassador for the Games the past four years, thinks things have worked out fairly well so far. However, he remains ambivalent about what the overall result might be.

“I’m sort of wait and see. It’s almost getting too big and too large. And the security … it’s almost a war zone,” said Mr. Owen, whose apartment at the foot of Davie is near the heart of the action. “There’s two helicopters overhead and police boats up and down False Creek. I hope it isn’t needed.”

He also wonders what it will really do for Vancouver’s image, especially because of the homelessness issue. “”If you take a picture of three people sleeping in a doorway and put it on the front of the New York Times, I’m not sure how that will work out. It doesn’t take much to knock everything off this teeter-totter.”

Mr. Owen isn’t going to any sports events – “it’s much better to watch them on television” – and thinks it would be improper to accept free tickets anyways. So he will only be going to social events – the opening ceremonies, courtesy of the premier, the IOC gala opening, and a few other corporate gatherings.


Mr. Sullivan was the symbol of Vancouver for many people in the rest of the world when he circled a Turin stage at the 2006 Winter Olympics with the Olympics flag attached to his wheelchair. The former mayor was also part of the council that decided whether to support the original bid back in 1996.

Now, he doesn’t have any kind of official role even though he would have liked one.

“I offered to do something. But it didn’t happen,” says Mr. Sullivan.

However, he is getting a coveted torch run spot this morning (Friday) for 300 metres along Commercial Drive, courtesy of RBC. And he is currently waiting to hear whether he will get to carry the torch in the run prior to the Paralympics.

Although he, too, has been invited to the opening ceremonies by the premier’s office, he won’t be going to any sports events at the Games.

“I was the champion for the Olympics because of what it does for the city. My interest was not the sports, I’m sorry to say.”

Dumped as the mayoral candidate by his own party prior to the 2008 civic election, Mr. Sullivan currently runs a non-profit funded by an American philanthropist that is aimed at promoting better city planning.

As part of that work, he is spending the Games trying to connect international media with people who he feels are important contributors to Vancouver’s social sector. As well, he’s been showing a short documentary that was made by an American film-making team about his life, using the attention generated by that to talk about social issues in Vancouver.

He has already generated more foreign media attention than many others connected with the Olympics, with two New York Times stories already that have focused on him extensively.


Mr. Campbell is famous as the Vancouver mayor who enraged and terrified Olympics organizers in 2003 when he carried out a campaign promise to hold a referendum on the Games – and then thrilled them when he successfully campaigned for and got a resounding Yes vote.

After one tumultuous term dominated by Olympics issues like the referendum and the Canada Line, Mr. Campbell quit and was shortly after appointed to the Senate by the Liberal government. Reached at his favourite hideaway on Galiano Island, he said doesn’t have a single complaint about the Games.

“All in all, I thought they’ve done a very good job. And given my knowledge of previous Games, one of the things I’m so pleased about was that John Furlong was there from start to finish.”

Mr. Campbell got to run with the torch in Dawson Creek when he was offered one of the spots reserved for Olympics sponsor Concord Pacific, which he enjoyed hugely. “I got to run it with people from the community and some young kids.”

Like everyone else on this list, he recently got invited to the opening ceremonies by the premier’s office. He says he was offered a city pass to the Games and offered tickets by several corporate groups. But he’s turned down most of that.

“I’d much rather see regular citizens taking those spots.” Instead, the one sports event he’ll be catching for sure is the Canada-U.S. men’s hockey game on Feb. 21. And he’ll be going to a lot of the parties in the eight days he plans to spend in the city.


Mr. Griffiths was the leader of the Vancouver-Whistler bid effort for the first three years of its existence, as it lurched into gear and then quickly won the right to be Canada’s candidate in the world competition. He left in 2000, saying he needed to focus on business and, when the Liberals looked for a new CEO in 2001, he was told he hadn’t made the cut.

But Mr. Griffiths, the owner of the Vancouver Canucks from 1987 to 1997 and the builder of GM Place, has ended up seeing the Games take over his life the last two years. That’s because he’s been working with a company called Prime Strategies, where he has handled any number of Games-related business files. They include the Russian retail giant Bosco (a “hybrid Bay, Roots and Lululemon,” as he describes it) that is selling its goods at the Games, Air Canada, Acer computers, and “a little work with the IOC,” Mr. Griffiths said this week as he was waiting for a helicopter in what has become a hectic life. “I should clone myself.”

To him, the Games have brought all the benefits he imagined for the province and more. His biggest disappointment is “people who are passing judgment on an event they’ve never been a part of” and his only surprise has been the level of policing. “It’s more security than I think anyone conceived of.”

With his connections, he has no shortage of opportunities to experience different parts of the Games. He carried the torch last Friday at Whistler, thanks to a personal invitation from CEO John Furlong. Tourism Vancouver invited him to the opening ceremonies today. And friends and business associates have been “very generous” with other tickets. For sure, he’s going to the men’s hockey final. He’ll get to watch it in the stadium that he built. “That’s pretty cool.”


Mr. O’Reilly spent years planning the Olympics for his town, travelling to other Winter Olympics and holding lengthy public meetings. Like Vancouver mayor Philip Owen, he was enthusiastic about them but cautious about the havoc they might wreak.

Then he left, quitting politics and Whistler in 2005 after three terms in office to move to Maui, where he sells real estate for Intrawest.

Speaking from Hawaii earlier this week, he spent most of his time talking about the protections he and his council put in to make sure Whistler wasn’t overwhelmed by the Games. No venues that would generate traffic jams on the highway to Whistler during the Games and then sit mostly unused afterwards. No selling development rights to land at Whistler to help pay for Olympics facilities.

He thinks those were all good moves, especially considering the way the public mood tends to sour in the years leading up to the Games. “We were forewarned by the IOC that every city goes through incredible challenges and negativity almost until the Games start.”

Mr. O’Reilly will be back in the city today to see what his efforts led to. He was planning to come for the middle week and go to events that his son had bought tickets for. Then he got a call from the premier’s office in the last few weeks offering tickets to the opening ceremonies. So he changed his flights and gave up some of his sports tickets for the later dates. There won’t be another chance in his lifetime to go to Olympics opening ceremonies in a place where he’d helped lay the groundwork for the Games.

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