- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Top that if you can.

Amid the tragedy, the medals race and the hockey frenzy, the Vancouver Olympics will be remembered above all for the fervor and ebullience of its Canadian hosts.

For future Olympic host cities London, Sochi and Rio de Janeiro, matching Vancouver’s festive atmosphere will be a tough act to follow.

“The way Vancouver embraced these games was extraordinary,” International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said. “I’ve never seen anything on this scale before. This is really something unique.”

Rogge and other IOC officials were unanimous in their verdict that Vancouver delivered the greatest ambiance and public enthusiasm of any Winter Games since the magical 1994 Games in tiny Lillehammer, Norway. Vancouver’s joyous mood also has been compared with the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.

“Future organizers know that there is really a need to create this kind of big embrace,” Rogge said. “It’s something you can’t create on a piece of paper.”

Despite the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training crash on the day of the opening ceremony and a rash of glitches and weather problems in the first few days, Vancouver lifted the Winter Games to a whole new level.

The streets were filled with partying spectators, the venues were packed with cheering fans and the entire country seem united for two weeks behind a single cause.

“For the first time, the Winter Olympic Games are on equal footing with a Summer Olympic Games,” said Kevan Gosper, a senior IOC member from Australia. “When we look back, we can say Vancouver is where we could start comparing Winter Games with Summer Games and not just winter with winter and summer with summer.”

The Winter Olympics, which debuted in 1924, were given their own identity when the IOC changed the cycle to put the Summer and Winter Games in different years starting in 1994.

Next up is London, which will host the 2012 Summer Games, becoming the first city to stage the Olympics for a third time. London also held the Olympics in 1908 and 1948.

London’s project is based on renovating a downtrodden part of east London into a showpiece Olympic park. London’s West End and other areas should be a magnet for nightlife and party atmosphere. As in Vancouver, live sites will be set up around the city for fans to watch events on big screens and enjoy musical entertainment.

Sebastian Coe, leader of the London organizing committee, was particularly impressed with the full venues and public spirit in Vancouver.

“Not since Sydney have I seen a city embrace the games the way they’ve been embraced here,” Coe said. “My gut instinct is that is what these games will be remembered for. I haven’t been anywhere where there’s been an empty seat in the house. And the people look like they want to be there.”

In 2012, Coe said he expects around 250,000 fans to flock into the Olympic Park every day, and at least an additional 1 million people to come to the city for the games.

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