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10 years later, Vancouver Olympics still evoke pride, inspiration across Canada | CBC Sports

VANCOUVER — The 2010 Winter Olympics were still two years away when Reid Watts got hooked on luge.

Watts was nine years old when his father took him to the newly constructed Whistler Sliding Centre to see the Canadian luge team train.

“I watched the sleds go down the hill and I was just taken away by the speed they were going,” said the now 21-year-old Watts, who represented Canada in luge at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“They were starting a program for BC Luge because they had the track and they were getting young development athletes. I just took the first run and it was the speed that drew me in.”

During the Vancouver Games, Brayden Kuroda sat glued to his television watching the moguls competition. His hero was Kristi Richards, who grew up in Summerland, B.C., near Kuroda’s hometown of Penticton.

A few weeks earlier Kuroda had met members of the Canadian freestyle ski team during a training camp held at Apex Mountain.

WATCH | Relive the opening ceremony:

The 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games opened up 10 years ago. Relive all the biggest moments from the opening ceremony, from k.d. lang’s performance of Hallelujah, to the Olympic cauldron being lit. 6:03

“I was able to get autographs and they talked to me for a little bit,” said Kuroda, 19, who has skied moguls at two world junior games and hopes to be part of Canada’s 2022 Olympic team. “They really inspired me.”

February 12 will mark 10 years since the Olympic cauldron was lit to open the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and later, the Paralympic Games. Canadian athletes won 26 medals during the 16 days of competition, including 14 gold, which at the time was a record for a country in a single Winter Olympics.

A decade later, the impact of those Games is still being felt. A country that for years seemed content with participating at the Olympics suddenly realized it had the resources and talent to be winners.

“The success of the Games has really transformed sport in our country,” said Anne Merklinger, chief executive officer for Own the Podium. “One might consider it to be a coming out for Canada on the high performance landscape. To really believe that our athletes could win, that they wanted to win, and they won in so many different instances.”

In the years leading up to Vancouver 2010, Own the Podium spent millions of dollars on sports and athletes identified for potential podium success. The triumph of Vancouver resulted in the program being extended to summer athletes.

Canadian athletes won 25 medals at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics (10 gold, 10 silver, five bronze) and 29 at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang (11-8-10).

Flag-bearer Clara Hughes leads the Canadian team into B.C. Place during the opening ceremony. (Getty Images)

At the 2012 London Summer Games Canada won 18 medals (2-5-11), then in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro took home 22 (4-3-15), the most since 1996 in Atlanta.

David Shoemaker, the chief executive officer and secretary general of the Canadian Olympic Committee, called Vancouver “a really defining moment for Canadian sport… [that] put a swagger in our step and belief around competing and winning that we probably didn’t have.”

Shoemaker believes the competitive fire ignited in Vancouver would transcend other sports and laid the foundation for Bianca Andreescu winning the U.S. Open tennis title and even the Toronto Raptors being NBA champions.

“It’s amazing to me to sit here and reflect upon how far we’ve come,” he said.

Moguls skier Alex Bilodeau, who on the second day of competition became the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil, said increased funding helped athletes turn a corner in Vancouver.

But he argues Canada always had talented athletes. The difference in Vancouver was Canadians started believing their athletes could be champions.

We kind of had the country behind us. They had our back. It gave us extra motivation.– Gold medallist Alex Bilodeau

“I don’t believe many athletes were going to the Olympics to be participants,” said Bilodeau. “In Vancouver, we kind of had the country behind us. They had our back. I think it gave us an extra motivation.”

When the Olympics ended, the Paralympics took centre stage, beginning March 12. Watching para-athletes like alpine skier Lauren Woolstencroft win five gold medals and cross-country skier Brian McKeever win three races created new heroes and helped shift attitudes toward people with disabilities.

“The 2010 Games were definitely a watershed moment for the awareness of our movement in both the country and with the public,” said Karen O’Neill, chief executive officer for the Canadian Paralympic Committee. “In addition to athletes with a disability, you can see that some of the awareness levels have just tripled and quadrupled since that time.”

One of the lasting legacies from Vancouver was the increase in money flowing into high-performance sports. Merklinger said since 2012, OTP has spent around $70 million a year on both summer and winter sports for Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

This has allowed carded athletes like Kuroda to pursue his Olympic dream.

A snowboarder flies through the Olympic Rings to begin the opening ceremony. (Getty Images)

“It’s really helped my family because before we were just scraping by, just barely able to make ends meet with the way skiing was costly to our family,” he said. “My family has benefited a lot. My parents are a lot happier, the bank accounts are a lot happier.”

The Vancouver Games were a mixture of triumph and heartbreak.

McKeever, who is visually impaired, made history by being named to the cross-country ski team at the Olympics, but did not compete in an event.

Speed skater Clara Hughes was the Canadian flag-bearer at the opening ceremony and would win the bronze medal in the women’s 5,000 metres. It was her sixth career Olympic medal (four in speed skating and two in cycling), tying her with speed skater Cindy Klassen for the most Olympic medals won by a Canadian.

Maelle Ricker won gold in women’s snowboard cross, making her the first Canadian woman to win a gold medal at an Olympics in Canada and the first Canadian woman to win gold in snowboarding.

Jon Montgomery will forever be remembered for celebrating his men’s skeleton victory by strolling through Whistler drinking a pitcher of beer.

Most Canadians can tell you where they were when Sidney Crosby scored in overtime to defeat the U.S. and give the Canadian men’s hockey team the gold medal.

The Games started under a dark cloud when hours before the opening ceremony Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died of injuries suffered in a crash during a training run in Whistler.

A protective wall and padding was installed at the bottom of the luge run after Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed after crashing on the morning of the opening ceremony. (Getty Images)

“Getting a call like that, no one has the tools for that,” said John Furlong, who was head of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC).

“It was one of the worst weekends imaginable for us and certainly for me.”

Figure skater Joannie Rochette would win a bronze medal just days after her mother died of a heart attack.

Devastated by a fifth-place finish, skeleton racer Mellisa Hollingsworth made a tearful apology to all Canadians.

The budget for the Vancouver Games was close to $2 billion. That cost did not include major infrastructure projects like improving the highway to Whistler, construction of a transit line to the airport or building the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Furlong believes Vancouver was a bargain compared to the estimated $51 billion spent on the Sochi Games and $12.9 billion bill for Pyeongchang.

“Vancouver, relatively speaking, was an inexpensive Games compared to some of the things that we’ve seen in the world,” he said. “It’s not like the world went home and then we had a massive cleanup job and people were regretting everything we did.”

John Furlong inspects a medal podium prior to the start of the Games. Furlong was CEO of the Vancouver organizing committee. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

VANOC spent $580 million building new venues or upgrading existing facilities.

Among the venues built specifically for the Games, the Whistler Sliding Centre ($104.9 million), Whistler Olympic Park ($119.7 million), and the Richmond Olympic Oval (VANOC contributed $63.3 million toward the building’s $178 million cost) carried the biggest price tags.

A $110-million fund was created to help finance operation of these venues after the Games.

The Whistler Sliding Centre continues to host World Cup events and is regularly used for training by both Canadian and international athletes. Tourists can also pay for luge or bobsled rides.

Whistler Olympic Park remains popular with cross-country skiers. Both the cross-country and ski jump facilities have hosted competitions for top North American athletes but not a World Cup event. The park is currently bidding to host the 2023 Nordic Junior World Championships.

Roger Soane, president and chief executive officer for Whistler Sport Legacies which oversees operations of the facilities, said the venues remain a community asset.

Considering what I see around the world, where other Olympics have been and where the facilities are mothballed, I’d say yes, it’s been a resounding success.– Roger Soane on legacy left behind by Games

“The Whistler Park is a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s a great recreational area. We look after people from three years old to 93 years old. The track is a little bit more special, but in 10 years we have groomed and developed the next generation of Olympians for the sliding sports.

“Considering what I see around the world, where other Olympics have been and where the facilities are moth-balled, I’d say yes, it’s been a resounding success.”

The Richmond Olympic Oval has not hosted a long-track speed skating event since the Games, but there have been national level sport-track competitions.

B.C.’s Reid Watts competed in the Pyeongchang Olympics, eight years after being inspired by what he saw in Vancouver 2010. (AFP via Getty Images)

Gerry De Cicco, general manager of Oval experience and venue operations, said the facility fulfils local community needs from a sport, recreation and cultural perspective.

The Oval has more than 6,000 members and nearly nine million visitors since it opened. It also serves as a training centre for national sport groups like Field Hockey Canada, Softball Canada, Volleyball Canada and Wheelchair Rugby Canada.

“We harness the Olympic opportunity to better deliver sort services to our community,” De Cicco said.

Back in 2010, Watts worked up his courage and had his picture taken with Canadian lugers Sam Edney, who finished seventh, and Jeff Christie, who was 14th.

Eight years later, after finishing 12th in Pyeongchang, Watts again had his picture taken with Edney, who was seventh, and Christie, who called the race for CBC.

“Without the Olympics in Whistler, without the track in Whistler, there’s no way I’d be an Olympic luge athlete or an Olympic athletic in any way,” he said.

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