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Today's Date: 21 November 2014
Last Updated: 20 November 2014 18:30:42 EST
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Vancouver raised the bar for Winter Olympics

Mark Staniforth

Canada may be claiming that they hosted the best Winter Olympics ever, but a more objective view can be had from the likes of British journalist Mark Staniforth.

The death of a Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, on the day of the opening ceremony, operational issues early on and the controversially ‘Own the Podium’ campaign initially caused acrimony, but the second half was relatively problem-free and positive, culminating in Canada’s sensational hockey victory in overtime over USA to take their gold tally to a record 14.

Staniforth works for the Press Association in London. Vancouver was his third Winter Games, having been to Salt Lake City in 2002 and Turin four years ago.

“I think overall these were the best Winter Games I’ve attended,” he said. “Obviously, the luger competitor dying was something that you could never extinguish from these Games and after a few false starts, some of which were the organisers’ issues but others like the weather were unavoidable, overall it was a far better Games than the last two, primarily because of the people and the enthusiasm they showed. That counts for so much for the Olympics.”

Staniforth reckons the Russians need to learn from Vancouver on how to engage the people to energise the next Winter Games in Sochi. “I’m sure it will be a really different Games because Russia is so different to Canada. If they can broadly learn from what Vancouver’s shown then that will be a great Games as well. At least there’ll be a lot of vodka!

“Security will be more of an issue there, what with Chechnya not being a million miles away. Once they get the balance right between the security and the party, it will be okay. You could argue that Vancouver has been able to be quite lax security-wise.”

Staniforth covered the Beijing Olympics and now gears up for the London Games in two years. Sebastian Coe, chairman of London 2012, was in Vancouver to glean experience and learn from both the good things and the mistakes.

Staniforth added: “I was speaking to Sebastian Coe yesterday and he said that he’s learnt Canada’s aggressive pursuit for medals, which has been criticised a little bit and he doesn’t see anything wrong with that. He says its borne fruit with the medals tally. He says we could learn a lot from their pursuit of medals and also the way Vancouver has embraced the public.

“The one thing Coe has to try to do is somehow follow Beijing, which had an unlimited budget and could do anything it wanted but at the same time didn’t quite manage to engage the people. So if London can learn from Vancouver it cannot beat Beijing but provide a Games that is so different.”

Canada’s media criticised the Winter Games organisers for early problems and that was exacerbated by the British press joining in. But Staniforth believes all Games are fraught with unforeseen problems. He points out that Salt Lake City came just after 9/11, Beijing had mass protests and Turin didn’t have a great start. “Of course, the luger’s death will always overshadow these Games but the way they recovered was absolutely marvellous.

“My highlights in Vancouver were in the women’s skeleton when Amy Williams won unexpectedly, especially when we thought a different female skeleton racer was going to win. Amy came from nowhere to win it. There were no other British highlights, but in terms of international performances, the women’s figure skating was absolutely extraordinary. Kim Yu-Na and Joannie Rochette, of course. The short track speed skating because it is completely insane.

“Another reason I like the winter Olympics better than the summer is that it allows people from countries like the Cayman Islands, the Snow Leopard from Ghana and the prince from Mexico to compete. And why shouldn’t they be here? That’s the great thing about the winter Olympics. It is so inclusive.”  

 
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