British Columbia

From gloom to glory, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics had it all

Everyone remembers the golden goal and the happy ending served up by Canada's Olympic athletes 10 years ago. But how many recall the rough start to the Games?

The death of a luger at Whistler only added to questions of whether the Games would be delivered as promised

A spectator waits in the rain and fog prior to the women's snowboard cross on Cypress Mountain at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky) (The Associated Press)

The success of the 2010 Olympics was cemented in the minds of most Canadians the moment Jarome Iginla's pass found Sidney Crosby's stick.

But forgotten in the glow of the golden goal and all the other wonderful moments of 2010 is that while the Games may have ended in glory and celebration, they sure didn't begin that way.

In fact, in the lead up, there was a slight sense of gloom, made all the worse when Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a training accident on the Whistler sliding track Feb. 12, the day of the opening ceremony. 

"There were some dark days," says Tim Gayda, vice president of sport for the Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee. "The death of Nodar, it was crushing. And it does still haunt me."

The tragedy only added to the growing questions around whether the Olympics would be delivered as promised.

Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili seen during a practice run at the 2010 Olympics in Whistler, B.C., on Feb. 11, 2010. He died in a training accident the following day. (Elise Amendola/The Associated Press)

Rain games?

Organizers had already been waging war with the weather for a month, fighting unseasonably warm temperatures and relentless rain that had turned the freestyle skiing and snowboard venues on Cypress Mountain into vertical mud pits.

Before the sports even started, one journalist was already calling the Olympics the 'Rain Games."

Organizers had to scramble to pull off the freestyle skiing and snowboard events at Cypress Mountain after warm weather and rain melted all the snow in the month before the 2010 Olympics began. (The Canadian Press)

"We had all the snow in the world on December 31st," said Gayda. "We had made snow, everything was great. And then on Jan. 1 the temperature went up to plus 5 C and it rained for six straight weeks."

The efforts to make Cypress competition-ready became nothing less than, well, Olympian.

Snow was pushed, trucked and even helicoptered in from nearby mountains. When that came up short, more was trucked in from Manning Park over 200 kilometres away. 

And while that provided enough to cover the courses, there was none left over to build up the jumps and features needed for the various events. So one thousand giant bales of hay were brought in to create the under-structures, with the precious snow pushed over top.

And when hay bales weren't enough, the carpenters were called in.

"The last jump on the snowboard cross course was actually wooden," said Gayda. "There was a lot going on behind the curtain... but it was pretty unbelievable what they were able to do up there."

Women's moguls on the opening day of competition was the first test of Cypress, and of Canada's boastful promise to "own the podium." 

Canada's Jennifer Heil performs a jump during the women's moguls at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. (The Canadian Press)

'Tremendous pressure'

The searing spotlight fell on Jennifer Heil, the defending Olympic champion who was picked to repeat and become the first Canadian to win gold at a home Olympic Games. 

"For sure there was tremendous pressure," recalls Heil. "I couldn't actually digest my food for almost two years, it was that deep." 

The Canadian television audience for the event peaked at eight million and the partisan crowd on the mountain did its best to stay enthusiastic despite the driving rain and slush.

Alas, it wasn't to be. And even though Heil nailed her last run to win silver, she was reduced to tears from the overwhelming feeling she had disappointed a nation.

Canada's silver medalist Jennifer Heil celebrates during the medals ceremony of the Women's Moguls Freestyle Skiing event in Vancouver. (Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

"My biggest regret of the Olympics was not being able to celebrate that silver medal," she said. "I wasn't able to celebrate it for years, to be honest."

Ten year on, things are a little different.

In hindsight, it's clear Heil's medal served as an ice breaker for Team Canada, which went on to win 25 more including 14 gold, starting with Alexandre Bilodeau on men's moguls. The weather improved, the celebrating started in earnest, and the gloom and stage fright lifted. 

"The amazing thing is that it lasted a millisecond, to be honest, and then the party began," said Heil. "We all settled into it and those gold medals started rolling in and they never stopped until the end." 

"Vancoverites, British Columbians and Canadian embraced it, and it was a beautiful thing."

Fans celebrate Canada's gold medal victory against the United States in the final hockey match at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. (Marcio Sanchez/The Associated Press)

About the Author

Karin Larsen

@CBCLarsen

Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster who covers news and sports for CBC Vancouver.

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