The Big Question: What lessons do the Vancouver Games offer for London 2012?
Tuesday 02 March 2010
Why are we asking this now?
The 2010 Winter Olympics, staged in Vancouver, Canada, have just ended, and the next Olympics, albeit a Summer Games, will be staged in London in two years' time, running from 27 July to 12 August 2012.
The opening ceremony is 878 days away. A delegation of London 2012 officials, including Lord Coe, the chairman of the 2012 Organisation Committee, have been in Canada to gauge everything from infrastructure to security, athletes' accommodation, transport, ticketing, hospitality, the volunteering network, you name it. Any lesson learned could help London to stage a better Games.
Were the Vancouver Games a success?
They got off to the worst of starts on the opening day, 12 February, when Nodar Kumaritashvili, a 21-year-old luge slider from Georgia, was killed during a training run after losing control on a notoriously quick track, which led to questions over safety. Against that, other hiccups involving inconsistent weather, mechanical faults and the voiding of some standing-only tickets on safety grounds, were minor.
And overall, for athletes, fans, the media and the host nation especially, the Games were a triumph. Lindsey Vonn, an American skier and pin-up whose crowd-pleasing participation was threatened by injury, recovered to take part and win a gold. Exciting new Olympic sports like ski cross bought a new generation of adrenaline-junkie viewers. TV figures soared. Vancouver partied, and it rained gold.
How positive for sport in Canada were the Games?
A record-breaking triumph: Canada won 14 gold medals, a record for any nation at any single Winter Games, let alone for any host. This was doubly astonishing because in two Games staged by Canada before – the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary – Canada had never managed even one gold medal on home soil.
How important was Sunday night to Canada?
For their 14th gold, Canada beat arch-rivals USA in the final of the men's ice hockey, Canada's national sport. They did so with an overtime goal (a sudden-death goal) from Sidney Crosby, a sporting hero even before the Games. The equivalent would be, for example, England winning the World Cup final in extra time at Wembley against an old enemy, say Germany. Sound familiar? The moment is already viewed by many as the greatest day in the history of Canadian sport.
How did the Canadians become world-beaters?
It wasn't sudden. Canada had a decent Winter Games tradition on which to build. Then for the past five years, since January 2005, the Canadian Olympic Committee has run the "Own the Podium" programme, with the stated intention of becoming the No. 1 Winter Olympic nation at the 2010 Games. This meticulous scheme was backed by £75m of government money and run in association with 13 separate Canadian winter sports federations over five years. Cash was targeted with medal potential in mind, and perks included home athletes at the Games being given priority access to practice facilities before the Games.
Did the scheme work?
Yes, in that 14 golds was a stunning success, although Canada did not win most medals overall, as hoped. It won 26 (14 gold, seven silver, five bronze), which was fewer than the USA (9-15-13) and Germany (10-13-7). The scheme was also criticised in some quarters for the unfair practice access it gave, with a suggestion that Kumaritashvili was a victim of this, but that was firmly refuted. The name of the scheme was also seen as arrogant. But essentially the plan worked, gloriously so. And Lord Coe, with two gold Olympic medals on his own CV, has revealed himself as a fan, saying: "Canada's 'Own the Podium' policy has been criticised, but not by me. There will be pressure on [British] athletes [to perform in London]. But that's what the territory is."
What can Great Britain learn from this?
It can learn, or, more precisely, be reminded, that targeted funding is a good way to improve medal success. The funding of would-be British Olympians has been transformed by Lottery funding since the late 1990s. An influx of cash for elite performers helped Britain to win 11 gold medals (and 28 in total) at the Sydney Olympics of 2000, nine golds (amid 30 medals) in Athens in 2004, and then a massive 19 golds (among 47 medals) in Beijing in 2008. Britain finished fourth in the medals table, higher than expected, in Beijing.
What price a medal?
In the four years up to Beijing, UK Sport, which distributes Lottery funding, gave £235,103,000 to would-be Olympic sportsmen and women via the governing bodies of the 26 Olympic sports. To be crude, each gold in China cost Britain £12.4m. That's way too simplistic. That money paid for facilities, coaches and bursaries for thousands of people in dozens of sports over the years. And some of the money for 2008 came from government funds injected specifically to improve medal hopes ahead of London.
So our government is helping to buy success for its home Games?
Yes, and is not afraid to say so. A UK Sport spokesman told The Independent yesterday: "Part of hosting a successful Games is to be successful as a nation within them. UK Sport's remit is quite simple now: winning medals."
What is UK Sport's budget and medals target for 2012?
You can find the budget, per sport, to the nearest pound, at the UK Sport website (uksport.gov.uk). The "Beijing to London" budget is £261,304,353 among 26 sports, ranging from £789,539 for GB's beach volleyball programme to £26.9m for rowing, £26.4m for cycling, £25.1m for swimming and £25.1m for athletics. Achievement in previous Games is rewarded with better funding, and vice versa. The medals target is fourth place in the table – with specific numbers to be set later.
What about other lessons that Coe & co learned?
They already knew the London Games (10,000 athletes) would be bigger than Vancouver's (2,500), and more expensive (about £9.3bn against £3.6bn), although security costs are the same (£600m). Coe said yesterday that what he had learned most of all was that local involvement and engagement is paramount. "From Beijing we want [to copy] that forensic eye for detail and delivery, in terms of sport and venues," he said. "[From] Sydney, you want the party atmosphere, and from Vancouver, you want that city engagement and the way the Games have been embraced."
Should London model itself on Vancouver?
*Targeted funding for medals isn't cheating; it's part and parcel of trying to be a successful host
*A simultaneous festival of cultural and social activities will only help turn your city into a two-week party
*A 'show-must-go-on' mentality when hiccups (or even tragedy) strike is a very good thing
*Any campaign that suggests ownership of success during an inclusive festival is crass and excluding
*Moaning about negative media coverage when things go wrong is shooting the messenger
*Don't sell any tickets where a random variable (like the weather) can render it useless
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