Furlong concludes marathon journey

When John Furlong began his 14-year dream of bringing the Winter Olympics to Vancouver he had no grandchildren. He now has nine.


It was journey started with a lifelong friend but one the Vancouver Games chief will finish alone after his mentor Jack Poole passed away just hours after the Olympic flame was lit at ancient Olympia last October.

When the eloquent Irish immigrant watches the Games cauldron spring to life it will mark the end of an Olympic marathon, a gruelling test of physical and mental endurance that few have had the strength or determination to see through.

"This last year is a pretty meaningful year because it has been a very long journey and my whole family has changed," Furlong said. "I had no grandchildren and I now have nine. It has been a transformation personally.

"It's a long time, a long journey. With a Games you have it on the pillow at night and it's sitting there when you get up. You don't get to put it aside."

Furlong (pictured, right) once described the enormous task of organising an Olympics as something akin to steering a super tanker.

But his hand has remained steady on the tiller, navigating the multi-billion project safely through the worst economic storm since the Great Depression. He is now set to deliver a Games on budget.

There was little in Furlong's resume to hint that the man from Tipperary possessed the skills, fortitude and charisma to survive a job that had crushed so many others.

He arrived in Canada in 1974 and held a variety of jobs including teaching and operating a city-run recreation department.

Furlong does not have the magnetic personality of 2002 Salt Lake City chief Mitt Romney or 2012 London Olympic CEO Sebastian Coe or the steely charm of 2006 Athens Games saviour Gianna Angelopoulos.

A political novice, Furlong appeared ill-equipped to deal with local and provincial leaders never mind crossing swords with the politically savvy members of the IOC.

Yet he managed to avoid the scandals and infighting that plagued Olympic organising chiefs in Salt Lake City, Athens and Sydney.

The president and chief operating officer for the Vancouver 2010 bid, Furlong later moved into the role of CEO of the organising committee and his appointment did not receive widespread approval.

But like any Irishman who captained Gaelic football teams at the highest level Furlong does not lack grit or fear a fight.

"When I became CEO, there were a lot of people who were asking what it takes to be a leader of something like this," said Furlong. "I had a very different viewpoint.

"I never saw this about one person's leadership, I saw this about pulling together a compelling team of people.

"It's been an amazing thing, we've discovered that no matter what comes your way if you've got good people, a good team and a good focus and a good vision you can overcome anything."

What Furlong lacked in experience he more than made up for with a tireless work ethic and consummate leadership skills.

On the day he was appointed VANOC CEO, Furlong took his team to see a movie the movie "Miracle" an inspiring film about the United States hockey team's gold medal win at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games that became known as the "Miracle on Ice".

After travelling 1.2 million miles around the world promoting the bid, Furlong has logged thousands more criss-crossing Canada, beating the drum for a Winter Games that he hopes will bring together a country where some provinces are closer to Britain than Vancouver.

"I want this to touch lives," Furlong said. "As a boy I wanted to be in the Olympic Games. I wanted to carry the flag. It never happened for me.

"I competed at a high level and I never made it. This to me was a chance to catch up with that dream."

British Eurosport are covering the Winter Olympics 24/7 on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521), Eurosport HD (412) and it's all on your PC via the Eurosport Player.

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