The Olympic mayor who never was says he has no regrets

Sam Sullivan - Province photo
Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan at the Plaza of Nations, where he is helping develop closer business relations to China. Sullivan says he has no regrets about his tenure, and was proud to represent the city at the Turin and Beijing Olympics. Photograph by: Jon Murray, PNG, The Province

‘I was only one person among thousands . . . who did so much work’

By Lena Sin, The Province

Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan was the international media darling four years ago when he famously did the "Turin Twirl" at the 2006 Winter Games.

But now, as the world descends on Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics, Sullivan has been left out of the spotlight.

And he has no regrets about it.

"It was a wonderful experience to be mayor of the city for three years, it was a tremendous experience. And to represent the city to the world, both in Beijing and in Torino, was a great honour but I don’t have any regrets," he tells The Province.

Vancouver’s mayor from 2005 to 2008 played a key role in shaping the city in the lead-up to the Olympics.

The quadriplegic also left a memorable global impression when he did a pirouette in his wheelchair upon acceptance of the Olympic flag at the close of the Turin Games.

However, that same year Sullivan was also ousted from his party, robbing him of ribbon-cutting photo-ops during the 2010 Games. That honour now goes to Gregor Robertson.

Sullivan maintains, however, that he’s already done most of what mattered to him — namely, using the Olympics as a means to improve transit, lobby for new infrastructure such as the convention centre and provide better services to the city.

"To me the real important things were the infrastructure, and the decisions that could be made had to be made years ago," he says.

The former mayor says it was also important to him that the Olympics were used to "heal the Downtown Eastside," and he believes the area has improved. He is proud that during his term, 12 city-owned sites were donated to build provincially funded social housing.

Of regrets, Sullivan would only speak vaguely about how some members of the current council have not embraced Olympic-related projects as he would have hoped.

When asked about the Olympic Athletes Village and the massive cost overruns of $130 million — a scandal which greatly tarnished his political career — Sullivan maintains that the city will not lose money and the $1-billion complex will turn out to be a great benefit.

With politics behind him, Sullivan has devoted himself to the Global Civic Policy Society, a non-profit group he established to promote urban sustainability. He has also done work in the private sector, using his fluency in Mandarin to bring closer ties between businesses in Vancouver and China.

Sullivan is looking forward to the opening ceremonies, which he bought tickets for, and attending all the free events.

He will also be a torchbearer when the Olympic flame passes through East Vancouver, close to where he grew up.

"For me, the Olympics is a means to the end. The Olympics is not the end. I feel very confident that I was only one person among thousands and thousands of people who did so much work," he says.

"I was given my torch, I guess you could say, during the years on council and as mayor."

And though Sullivan will not represent the city in any official capacity, you may still see him in the spotlight. Yes, the international press have already been calling.

– published in The Province newspaper, January 24, 2010