Olympic glow still shines

The Olympics are never far from the hearts and minds of Mayor Wayne Wright and Dr. Bob McCormack.

For Wright, the evidence is in his office, where one of the torches used to light the cauldron at Queen's Park last February is prominently displayed.

"The torch inspires me every day to work to the best of my ability," said Wright. "I look at the torch, and it gives me the incentive to keep working. ... Whenever things get tough, I think back to when the torch was here, and I think that was an experience of a lifetime."

McCormack is a New Westminster orthopedic surgeon who was the chief medical officer for the Canadian Olympic team last year, so his memories of last year are even more personal.

"It was a great time, a tremendously worthwhile thing to do and maybe the most dramatic thing I've ever been involved in," said McCormack just before he was to enter the operating room for a procedure. "I think the Games are a defining moment for Vancouver and for the region."

You can forgive McCormack for his enthusiasm, as his devotion to the Olympic movement has included stints as chief medical officer and now, a promotion to medical director for the Canadian Olympic Committee, meaning he'll oversee the medical program and work with young doctors as they take over from him.

"I'm biased because I've had a life-long love affair with the Olympics," said McCormack, a former long-distance runner who just missed qualifying for the 1976 Summer Olympics and would've been a member of the 1980 team if Western nations hadn't boycotted the Moscow Games. "I believe the legacy of the 2010 Olympics is seeing so many Canadians being passionate and enthusiastic for our athletes.

"I think before last year, Canadians were too timid to say we're the best in anything, but after Vancouver, the sense I got was Canadians were so proud to be Canadian, so proud to be number 1, and no longer would Canadians say sorry, we won. Canadians were now celebrating that we were the best."

Tempering the enthusiasm just a bit is New Westminster-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly, another former elite athlete. Donnelly just missed qualifying in the 1,500-metre freestyle swimming competition for the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics and also loves the Olympics.

"It's a mixed review for me," said Donnelly. "Obviously, it's a boon to get the Olympics because they don't come often to Canada. But when you look at the economics, the Olympics was supposed to bring economic development of $10 billion. ... Now you hear the results, and it's far short of that."

One area Donnelly would like to see improvement is in funding for elite athletes.

"I know it's a question of priorities," said Donnelly, "and the balance has to be right, but funding is an ongoing issue."

McCormack agreed that while the finances are high, he believes the benefits will be felt many years into the future.

"There are always costs when it comes to the Olympics," said McCormack. "And I'm a little biased, but I believe the costs are justified. We got a lot of federal support that we otherwise wouldn't have gotten."

McCormack cites such big infrastructure improvements such as the Canada Line SkyTrain line, Sea to Sky highway upgrades and Richmond Olympic oval as examples of facilities that are the enduring legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"The Sea to Sky would probably still have been improved, but it would've taken 10 or 20 years more. ... The Olympics gave us the ability to make things happen sooner."

McCormack concedes that while New Westminster itself didn't get anything tangible like Richmond and its speedskating oval, it did get something much harder to measure.

"I know there's an unprecedented enthusiasm as people support the athletes who won Canada 14 gold medals," said McCormack. "And that enthusiasm has led to athletes continuing to excel and win, all across the world."

For Wright, the 2010 Olympics have benefited the Royal City in more ways than he can count.

"I'm seeing more visitors and more tourists," said Wright. "The Olympics put us on the map. It was a very positive event at a time when things were very tough economically. The Olympics were that one shining light that made you proud to be Canadian."

As for the past weekend, while Vancouver wwas holding first anniversary events on Feb. 12 to commemorate the Olympics, New Westminster didn't have any special events planned.

"I have to go (to) downtown Vancouver for a friend's wedding," Wright told The Record last week. "We're chartering a bus, so I may see some of what's happening in Vancouver."

By Alfie Lau, The Record