Rogge praises Vancouver
Be proud, Canada.
As he prepares to declare the 2010 Winter Olympics officially closed, the president of the International Olympic Committee said the host city and the entire country have reason to celebrate.
Promises made to the IOC when the Games were awarded to Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., in 2003 have been met and exceeded, Jacques Rogge said.
"You can be proud," Rogge said in an interview Saturday with The Canadian Press.
"We are very thankful for the way the whole nation has embraced these Games."
Rogge said while Vancouver has taken on the Games in a way that's "unheard of in the Olympic movement," he does consider them as belonging to all of Canada.
That the Games, in turn, have become such a catalyst for national unity is not surprising, said Rogge.
"This underlying pride to be a Canadian has maybe not many ways to express itself," he said. "The Games gives the possibility to express this deep feeling."
But while the feverish enthusiasm with which Canadians have greeted the Games has impressed Rogge, he said Canadians have never let it get out of hand.
He said he saw this first hand when crowds still cheered for the Swedish women's gold medal in curling even though it was the Canadian team they beat for the victory.
"The public is absolutely not chauvinistic," he said.
"The Canadian public is absolutely first class."
At the same time, Rogge admitted, the behaviour of some Canadian athletes hasn't always been.
Canada's women's hockey players who drank beer and smoked cigars on the ice after their gold medal win over the U.S. should have thought twice, Rogge said.
"I think they realize that with hindsight they should have behaved differently," he said.
"But one should not blow this out of proportion. They have expressed their regrets."
He added that he considers the matter closed.
'We are jumping into the future'
Rogge said he doesn't see a conflict between the nationalism that's become attached to the Olympics and the Olympic charter itself.
"The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries," reads the charter, the document that governs the Games.
But while the IOC itself may not rank countries according to medals, everyone else does.
Plus, host nations now use the Games for means that take them far beyond simple athletic competitions.
When discussing the 2014 Winter Games, the head of the Sochi organizing committee focuses far more on the opportunity to introduce the world to a new Russia than he does on athletic achievement.
"The Olympic project is the greatest-ever catalyst to accelerate all the processes in society," said Dmitry Chernyshenko. "Economical, social, environmental. This is great that we are doing it so fast, we are jumping into the future."
For Canadians, how athletes performed at the Games was low on the list of priorities. In a Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey, those polled ranked being safe, on budget and problem-free as the top three qualities required for success.
But the fact that government funding is a requirement both for staging a Games, and in many cases developing athletes, means the two end up being a full nation-building exercise, said Rogge.
"Part of the Own The Podium was funded by public money and this is a worthwhile phenomenon," he said.
"Many countries consider sport as a very important part of social aspect of their country but also there is a kind of identity linked to that."