In the closing ceremony at the Vancouver Olympics tonight, Bill Demong, who won America's first gold medal in Nordic Combined, will head the most successful US Winter Olympic team in history. NBC-TV coverage of the closing ceremony starts at 8 pm EST.
Whistler and Vancouver, British Columbia
Demong showed real sportsmanship early on in the Games when he put aside his own disappointing performance to cheer teammate Johnny Spillane’s silver medal – America’s first in 86 years of Olympic Nordic combined events. Then in a stunning performance last week, Demong became the first American to win Olympic gold with a surge on the final climb that left Austria’s Bernhard Gruber in his dust.
But asked what his most enduring memories would be of these Games, Demong pointed not to his own historic achievements but – characteristically – looked beyond himself.
“Being here the last couple of years, training and seeing it all come together and everything done ahead of time, I think these Olympics were a real success in Canada’s attempt to really show the world they could put on a best-ever kind of Games,” said Demong, a four-time Olympian who capped his gold-medal day by proposing to his girlfriend. (She said yes.) “The memory I will take from this was that it was a fantastic Games in a beautiful setting put on by a really proud city.”
Lindsay Vonn, whose gold and bronze added to a historic eight-medal haul for US alpine skiing, agreed that the atmosphere was special.
“The fans were definitely in full force in all the events. Canadians and Americans alike cheering not only us on and Canadians on, but the entire world,” she said. “You don’t get that from every Olympics. I definitely didn’t feel the same energy and the same atmosphere in Torino as I did here in Whistler.”
While the US got off to a roaring start with Hannah Kearney’s gold in the ladies’ mogul competition on Feb. 13, Vancouver’s party didn’t. There was the fatal luge crash, dump trucks and helicopters rushing to pile enough snow on Cypress Mountain to hold the snowboard and freestyle skiing events, and a lack of organization as bus drivers and volunteers from around Canada struggled to figure out exactly what they were doing and where they were going. The British press called the Games “the worst in history.”
“When I look at the first four or five days, I don’t think there’s anybody here and anyone in the city that would have been prepared to say, 'I could have predicted this’ – some of the things that Vancouver 2010 had to deal with,” said John Furlong, CEO of the Vancouver organizing committee, who quipped that he’d rather have done the job with a paper bag over his head.
But the lack of snow was not new, and if warm spells in cold places becomes the new norm, future Olympic committees may want to take note of Vancouver’s tactics.
“In [the 2006 Games in] Italy, we literally skied on a pile of snow on a dirt road, so this is a big improvement,” said Kearney, the moguls gold medalist.
But even for the cynics, the atmosphere seemed to change with a spell of sunny weather in the second week, and Canadians’ unfailing cheer – whether in the stands or the “smurf suits” as the volunteers’ turquoise uniforms came to be called. And for all the criticism Canada got for its uncharacteristically bold plan to “Own the Podium,” its athletes came through strong in the final days to win the overall gold medal count – if not matching America’s historic haul of 37, including the men's hockey game.
“We start sending [leadership] teams to Sochi … this coming year, so they start looking at venues and certainly the geography, the area,” said US Olympic team chef de mission Mike Plant, who said the US has spent $55 million on winter sports over the past four years. “They start to understand it years in advance so that when we do get to the Games we’re probably the best-prepared team.”