James Lawton: Canadian gold standard lights way for London

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Lord Coe insists the fine performance of the home team at the Vancouver Games shows how 2012 can be a resounding success

Lord Sebastian Coe, who knows all about Olympic pressure, is flying home from the Winter Games with an unequivocal message for every British athlete facing the challenge of London 2012.

It can be summed up succinctly enough – and even borrowed from an old recruiting poster of World War One: the nation expects.

The requirement is the oxygen of success that so inspired Britain in Beijing in 2008 and has to be reproduced on home soil if London is to be included in the roll call of great Olympics.

After watching Canadian athletes deliver a winning total of gold medals – after the failures to gather a single one in the summer of Montreal in 1976 and the winter of Calgary in 1988 – the man who won both gold and silver in the 1980 and 1984 Olympics in Moscow and Los Angeles is clear about what he – and, he believes, the nation – wants to see from London Games costing somewhere north of £9.1 billion.

It is that the athletes and coaches of Britain accept and deal with the responsibility that over the last 17 days here threatened first to overwhelm the home athletes, then provoked record performance.

Lord Coe, chairman of the London organising committee and the man whose huge standing among the Olympic hierarchy swung the bid away from the hard favourites Paris, said: "We have to deliver memorable, great games, something that can hopefully combine the forensic organisation of Beijing and the beauty of spirit of Barcelona in 1992, but among the things we have learned here is the vital role of the home athletes.

"Canada's Own the Podium policy has been criticised but not by me. Pressure is a huge part of the Olympics – it has to be lived with and conquered and this has been achieved here.

"British athletes and their coaches have to be aware of the enormous pressure and they have to deal with effectively. It has to be an integral part of their preparations. It is what competing at the highest level is all about."

Canada, despite being waylaid by criticism that they had piled too many hopes on the backs of their athletes, went into last night's ice hockey final needing victory over the United States to become all-time leaders of the Winter Olympic gold standard.

With their total of golds pushed to 13 by the triumph of curling veteran Kevin Martin's team, Canada shared the record mark of the Soviet Union in Innsbruck in 1976 and Norway at Salt Lake City eight years ago – and were, according to both Coe and another outstanding British Olympian, Sir Steven Redgrave, vindicated in the ambition they brought into these games.

Both men know how easy it is to be overwhelmed by the demands of an Olympics – on any soil. Redgrave, reviewing events here the other day, said: "You spend four years telling everybody, including sponsors, how you're going to win a gold and then the moment comes when you have to go out and do it. It's not an easy thing."

Coe also recalled the sense of disaster that built around him when he landed a mere silver medal in the 800 metres in Moscow – before going out to win 1500 metres gold with a masterful run a few days later.

"I entered the real world of the Olympics in the 800 metres, and looking back I realised that if I had gone to Montreal four years earlier [when he was still a teenager] I would probably have been blown away but would have learned some vital lessons."

Coe's recovery of poise in Moscow provided a classic Olympic story – as did his repeat victory in the 1500 metres in Los Angeles four years later, when he came back from illness and disrupted training with a run that inspired the Los Angeles columnist Jim Murray to describe him as the "young Lord Byron of the track''.

But if the future Lord Coe did touch poetry on that smoggy day in LA, he is all hard business now.

From the Winter Games he brings home three working models for the kind of performance, and display of character, that can set British blood racing fast in London in 2012.

They are, in no particular order Amy Williams, Britain's supremely composed skeleton gold medal winner, her Canadian counterpart in the men's event, a red-haired adventurer named Jon Montgomery who jubilantly slugged back a pitcher of beer handed to him by fans after his final winning run, and the figure skater Joannie Rochette, who a few days after the sudden death of her mother delivered one of the performances of her life.

Here, for Coe, was the essence of Olympic performance, a perfect blend of talent and unshakeable commitment.

Coe said: "If you wanted a symbol of achievement in the Olympics, of dealing with all the kind of pressures they bring up, I just don't think you could improve on the effort of this young woman who on top of all her other challenges had to deal with terrible grief.

"She handled all of that pressure and she gave a great performance. It is at the very heart of what has to be done if you want to succeed at this level. Now that British athletes are facing the pressure that so many Canadian athletes have responded to so well it cannot be emphasized enough that they have to focus on more than their times and the success of their training.

"They have to work with their coaches to deliver performance when so much is expected of them. It is the hardest thing an athlete can face and here we have seen it pulled off repeatedly, especially in the second week. When you consider the background of Canada not winning a gold medal in the two home Olympics it has indeed been a remarkable effort, and most of all by Joannie Rochette in her circumstances."

Williams will inevitably be the pin-up girl of the British Olympic Association's attempt to shore up their funding after winning the team's only medal – two less than the target set by UK Sport. Redgrave, who won gold medals at five separate Olympics, said gallantly that Williams' gold was worth five of any other variety and Coe also believes that her victory was a superb example of what can be done with the right support – and the best of competitive temperaments.

Coe says that the obligation of his committee is to deliver games successful at every level – and not least in the matter of touching the people, persuading them that it is their Olympics and something they will want to savour for the rest of their lives. It is an aspect of these initially embattled Winter Games which has hugely impressed Coe.

"They have managed to draw in the people, make them feel part of the Games and this will probably be my strongest memory, plus the way the athletes have responded to the challenge. The organisers have been smart in the way they set up live sites in the city, it has been good theatre and the people have got more and more involved."

Not every Vancouverite has been bowled over, but far more than anyone imagined when the city's plebiscite on whether to bid for the Games produced a no vote of more than 33 per cent.

Plainly, like most Olympics, these have been less than flawless and the tragic and avoidable death of the young Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, will always remain for some an immovable stain.

However, there is no doubt that the city and the nation has been enriched by more than a mere chauvinistic craving to finish at the top of a medals table. If at times the games have brought the worst out of Canada, as they might any nation, more often they have produced the best.

For confirmation of this we really need look further than the grace of the figure skater from a little town in Quebec. She won more than a bronze, she produced life-affirming grace and courage.

It leaves Lord Coe, not unnaturally, asking for a little more of the same in two years time. The guess here is that it would probably be enough to light up the old town.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen