Patriot Hearts ‘warmly reflects on the Canadian spirit’
By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine
November 23, 2010
It’s been almost a year since the Olympics came to town and John Furlong isn’t about to let us forget it.
The CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games is readying to release Patriot Hearts, a memoir about his experience as organizer of the biggest sporting event in Canadian history. It’s being timed for release on Feb. 12, 2011, the one-year anniversary of the Games Opening Ceremonies.
The book, Furlong says in an interview, is as much an account of his experience as an organizer as it is an argument that a new patriotism was forged in the Olympic flame.
“What I wanted the book to do was warmly reflect on the Canadian spirit,” he said. “That this was not the work of a few people, and the book tries to do justice to the fact that it was Canada, all Canadians that put the Games into a place that they’d never been before.”
Born in Tipperary, Ireland, Furlong came to Canada in 1974. Upon arriving here, an immigration officer admonished him to “make us better.” He has tried to heed that advice by getting involved in various aspects of Canadian sport. He competed internationally in basketball, European handball and squash, becoming Canadian Champion in the latter sport in 1986.
Furlong has channeled his passion for sport into several organizations. He has been chair of Sport BC, chair of the BC Summer and Winter Games and a BC Mission Staff member for seven Canada Games.
In 1996 he volunteered for Vancouver’s upstart Olympic bid, eventually becoming its CEO in 2001 before taking the reins as lead organizer for the Games in 2004.
The trials and triumphs in between are documented in the book, which Furlong wrote with Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason.
“I would never pass myself as an English scholar or somebody who felt he had it in him to write a book,” Furlong said. “I knew I would need some help to do it, someone I completely trusted and believed in so I could tell the story without losing my own voice and do it in a way that the story reads well.
“In many ways, it’s been extremely emotional and heartbreaking, of course, all the headwinds you’ve faced. It was a very emotional thing to do, but it’s been now, having finished it, it’s been also a bit liberating and exhilarating.”
As far as the actual episodes contained in the book, Furlong says everything is in there that “should be there.” That could, of course, include anything from Alexandre Bilodeau’s gold medal win to Dick Pound questioning whether the head organizer should even have had the job to start with.
Furlong stresses he didn’t write the book to settle any scores.
“It’s not an attempt to get even or respond to anything,” he said. “What I hoped to do is get to the end and hope that no one looked at the book and thought I didn’t tell a part of the story that was important to people.”
Furlong’s partnership with Mason puts him in an interesting position. As CEO of the Games, he’s now working in concert with a columnist who was responsible for reporting one of the biggest debacles of the Games: the City of Vancouver’s secret agreement to financially backstop the developers of the Vancouver athletes village, Millennium Properties.
Because condo sales were slow in the post-Olympic economy Millennium has been unable to pay back more than $700 million it owes the city. Last week Millennium and the City of Vancouver agreed to place the project in receivership.
Furlong and Mason had to find a way around their professional roles and the former says it was manageable.
“It’s a complex process to write a book,” Furlong said. “We didn’t allow any of our professional interests to interfere with our ability to do this properly.
“It’s my view, at the end, the village will realize its full potential. We’ve all been confronted with the challenges of a bad economy, I think what the city is doing right now is trying to manage it as best as they can.”
The 320-page book will be available for purchase in February. Advance copies are available to members of VANOC’s listserve. If you purchase an advance copy, publisher Douglas and McIntyre will make a donation to the Canadian Olympic Foundation.