Vancouver 2010 – In Hindsight

Greg Diamond – ByrnesMedia

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…”

Regardless of the level of planning and no matter the myriad of contingencies accounted for – Murphy’s Law will still reign supreme. Just ask the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Now, before going into what were perceived and/or blatant mistakes, it would be unfair in the least not to take a moment and tip the hat to all the men and women who helped bring about such an outstanding event. The people of Vancouver, and indeed all Canadians, should be very proud of how they welcomed the world and subsequently comported themselves on its stage.

As alluded to, though, the magnitude of an Olympic event precludes anyone’s ability to foresee every possible problem. No such competition, whether in summer or winter, has ever gone off without a hitch… everand none ever will. So, with that in mind, let’s look at some “areas of opportunity” for future Olympic organizers and in our everyday radio operations.

Own the Podium

Since its launch in 2005, this initiative made great strides towards allocating funds in a targeted manner to ultimately put as many Canadians on the medal ‘podium’ as possible. While the program obviously had the best of intentions, is it possible that it also may have had a negative effect? An argument can be made.

First, there were many who derided such a brash and boastful slogan as being “Un-Canadian”. Frankly, that’s just stupid – winners never have an issue with thinking (or sometimes even saying) they will win… or at the very least, they can win. There is nothing wrong with a host country’s desire to amass the most medals and, in fact, it’s become the norm to do so. The potential downside, however, was the goal itself.

Canada is home to many of the world’s best winter athletes, but attempting to “Own the Podium” was never a realistic, attainable target. Is it possible that this heightened need to excel just added to what was already a pressure-filled situation for our competitors? The fact that some of them have apologized for not winning seems to back up that notion. Also, the Americans themselves have admitted that much of their deserved, but largely unexpected success is attributable to having something akin to home field advantage, but without all the accompanying stress.

Just as we do when planning ratings and revenue goals, aspirations must be balanced by reality. To do otherwise is somewhere between self-defeating and pure folly. In the case of the Olympics, a more practical, less lofty objective may have produced greater results.

Lighting Ceremony

In radio, we deal with the occasional technical problem. Over the decades, our experience with such difficulties has allowed us to formulate contingency plans and back up systems to keep the number of small ‘glitches’ to a minimum and also to ensure that we rarely, if ever, suffer our greatest fear and go off the air. When we do, other plans and systems go into effect to get us back up and running as quickly as possible.

As Olympic Opening Ceremonies have become more elaborate, it only makes sense that the likelihood of technical errors has increased. Not having one of the four pillars rise during the flame lighting just happened to be one of the more noticeable slip-ups. To their credit, the flame bearers, Rick Hansen, Wayne Gretzky, Nancy Greene, Steve Nash and the unfortunate Catriona LeMay Doan (who was left without anything to light), didn’t panic and when three pillars finally did rise up, the ceremony continued (almost) as planned. Gretzky was interviewed the next morning and revealed that they all had earpieces which allowed the director to issue ‘hold’ instructions. He also mentioned that they practiced the ceremony four times and on each occasion it went off without a hitch – Murphy strikes again!

We’re taught from our earliest days in this business to just forge ahead when accidents happen. It’s unfortunate, though, that I still hear jocks drawing attention to minor problems like audio not firing, microphones being left on during a song, wrong caller audio being cued up, etc. I, for one, was pleasantly surprised with the way five people, with the world watching (regardless if they had someone in their ear or not), kept their composure and did their job when the time finally came. We can all take away a valuable lesson from that.

On the other hand, I can’t help wondering what would have happened if none of the pillars worked. Maybe Gretz would have just left in the pickup. The truck was a fitting piece of Canadiana, by the way.

Nodar Kumaritashvili

The Olympic flame has been extinguished, but this tragedy will doubtless be in the news for a long time to come. In scenarios such as this, someone always takes the fall. This is not the forum to debate whether rightly or wrongly, but the fact that a young man lost his life assures that the question will be argued legally.

Olympic organizers always tout athlete safety as being their highest priority. In this circumstance it would be unjust to think otherwise, even if some participants voiced concerns about inadequate practice opportunities. It’s understood that safety will play an even more important role in the planning of future Olympic Games. While no comfort to his grieving family, such heightened awareness will ensure Mr. Kumaritashvili did not die in vain.

While we may not deal with such extreme situations (with rare exceptions), it’s what we learn from them and how we act because of them that makes us better broadcasters and, more importantly, better people.

A former colleague once told me that, “You’re not defined so much by what you do when things are going your way, but rather what you do when they’re not.”

The International Olympic Committee will learn and grow from the tragedy at the Whistler Sliding Centre. You may or may not have won your last ratings battle, but take what you can from the victory or defeat and use it to your advantage the next time… and also allow Nodar Kumaritashvili to help you put it all in perspective.

Stop the Presses!

On a happier note, the preceding was written on the afternoon of February 24th – Day 13 of Vancouver 2010. That evening Canadians would win another gold medal, plus two silvers and a bronze. At about the same time our beloved men’s hockey team was dismantling the Russians 7-3.

So, an 11th hour addendum is in order.

Own the podium? Nah! Chisel off a sizable chunk? Yup!