The feeling defies description.  I was center stage at the closing ceremony of the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics to accept the Olympic flag on behalf of Vancouver and the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. With more than 1 billion viewers, the eyes of the world were literally ‘on’ Vancouver, and I was a basket of nerves.

We had worked out a device to attach to my wheelchair with a long pole set at an exact angle to allow me to spin my wheelchair in a specific arc that would make the flag twirl in a dramatic swoop. We had practiced and modified the device and the twirl many times in a hidden setting in Vancouver. However, all that preparation couldn’t quell my nervousness over the chance that the flag could tangle at that moment.

Being on that world stage was much more than the twirl of a flag. I had gone to Torino with a message. It was a message about the quality-of-life in Vancouver. Never again would there be a moment where Vancouver could attract as much interest from world news media as in the lead up to that moment of that twirl.

All of the large media outlets in the world were there; NBC, Associated Press, The New York Times, it went on and on. I represented a unique story about a unique city. Many reporters asked ‘what kind of a city would elect a mayor in a wheelchair?‘ My answer was a city that was open, inclusive and progressive. A city that cherishes its quality of life. I told them that none of this was an accident. Vancouver’s quality of life resulted from passionate citizens, progressive planners, and visionary city councils that nurtured a diverse and open culture.

I believe the Olympics did much more for Vancouver than carry that message to the world. It also brought direct improvements and long-term legacies to the city that would have taken decades to gain otherwise. Renovated community centers like Hillcrest and Trout Lake are much more than buildings, they are places that bring communities together to learn, share and be healthy. A completely refurbished BC Place Stadium with its fantastic opening roof is now home of both the BC Lions and the Vancouver Whitecaps. A brand new convention center increased our capability to host large conventions. The Olympic Village is the most environmentally sustainable neigbourhood in North America. We capitalized on the Olympics to create 14 new buildings of social housing. Finally, the most dramatic example of the Olympic legacy is the outstanding success of the Canada Line that has exceeded all projections of ridership from the day it opened.

To this day people tell me how proud they were to see their Mayor on stage in front of the world and bring home the flag. I am happy to hear it, but most importantly, I appreciate the dedication of all those who put enormous effort into making those games a success, the bid committee, the sponsors, the determined city staff, the volunteers and many more.

As time goes by we take for granted these Olympic legacies, but let’s always remember that many of these were the result of the dedication of thousands of people who helped Vancouver stage one of the most successful Olympic Games in history.

I’m so proud of this city.


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