I believed in [the Vancouver games] enough to walk away from it. If others thought it would have been better in the hands of someone else, it would have been okay by me. Would I be disappointed to leave? Sure. But not at the expense of a bad decision about who should lead the games. Truthfully, I don’t think it’s possible to sustain yourself in a project like this unless you have a profound belief in what it’s trying to do. The fact of the matter is this project just owns you. So I tried to be the example of the guy who could sustain himself through that, who could deal with the adversity, who could deal with the things that would come along.
You can end up getting yourself engaged in these political shenanigans that happen in big projects like this, and I wanted it to be clear that the project was bigger than all of us. So I thought [being clear I would walk away for the good of the event] would say something.
One of the chapter titles in your book is “Calls for My Head.” What did you learn from all the pressures of people questioning your ability to run this organization?
The one thing [all of us who have organized an Olympics] have in common is that every one of us has faced that. The project lives and breathes on the front page, and it’s not easy to overcome that. What I tried very much to do is at all times be cognizant of the fact that our relationship was with the public. What I was hoping for was that the public would look at us and think we were doing our best. This is a complicated project. This is the biggest project in the world in peacetime. It’s not easy to do, and every single time it’s staged it has challenges.
What specifically did you do beyond just talking about the Vancouver games being “Canada’s games” to help get the public on your side?
It was a bit much to expect that people thousands of miles from Vancouver would support the games if we didn’t show up in other regions of the country. We set it up to have real relationships with Canadian companies all over Canada. We had a partnership with every Canadian province and territory. We took the torch relay to within one hour of the front door of every home in Canada. We tried to let every Canadian have a genuine Olympic experience so they could feel ownership.
I’m interested in what kind of mechanism the International Olympic Committee has for passing down lessons from the games. How in touch are you with the London organizers?
After every Olympics there is a knowledge debrief, a knowledge transfer process. You prepare a program that lasts for about a week to 10 days, and you go to the host country and spend as much time as you can giving them the clear, unfiltered [version of] this is how it happened, this is what we would have done differently, these are the mistakes we made, these are the things we were very proud of. It’s one thing the IOC does very well. It causes organizing committees to become very serious about gathering data and knowledge. So London had a very close relationship with Vancouver for years. We had people from London on our team; they learned as much as they possibly could from us.
What about informal consulting, leader to leader?
I have a direct relationship with Sebastian Coe and Paul Deighton [the leaders of London’s organizing committee]. We’re friends. We don’t talk as much today, but we have. It’s really for them to be able to pick up the phone, and say, “We’re dealing with a certain thing. How did you manage this?”