All In All, Canada's Olympic Track Record Still Shines

Weather problems, a death on the luge track, organization issues and a disappointing medals performance. The Vancouver games have had their setbacks. But coming into the closing ceremony, Canadians have plenty of reasons to feel good.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

So, things are looking up for Canada's athletes, and they're also looking up for the Canadian Games. It wasn't that long ago that the organizers of Vancouver 2010 were fending off some very bad press - but no more.

NPR's Martin Kaste has more from Vancouver.

MARTIN KASTE: It started with a fatality on the luge track, then there was a shortage of buses and foggy, drippy weather on the slopes, which delayed competition for days. It got to the point that the Russian newspaper Pravda declared Vancouver not fit to host the Olympics.

What a difference a week makes.

Ms. LINDSEY VONN (U.S. Skier): It's definitely one of the best Olympic experiences that I've ever had.

KASTE: That's American skier Lindsey Vonn yesterday morning. She cited the organizers for their skill in adapting to the tricky weather. Other athletes have echoed her praise.

Renee Smith-Valade, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver organizers, says the early criticism stung, but it also had an effect.

Ms. RENEE SMITH-VALADE (Spokeswoman, Vancouver Organizing Committee): On many things, we've improved our performance, we've enhanced our performances. And much like the athletes, we're always looking to do better. And if that pushed us to do that, then that's a good thing.

KASTE: They even have hopes of staying on budget - not an easy to do in any Olympics. Although organizers spent millions of dollars trucking in snow to Cypress Mountain, Smith-Valade says they've also made extra money in other places, such as ticket sales. While the organizing committee may end up in the black, it's only because the games have been heavily supported by Canadian taxpayers.

Mr. DAVE DIEWERT (Activist): Your numbers kind of emerge later and you find out how bad you're in the hole.

KASTE: Dave Diewert is one of the activists who set up a tent city for homeless people on a vacant lot during the Olympics. He points out that British Columbia's provincial government is paying hundreds of millions of dollars more than anticipated for security. Not to mention the billions that went to projects like a new metro line and the rebuilt highway to Whistler. Diewert worries that the bill is now about to come due.

Mr. DIEWERT: The budget's going to come down March the 2nd, you know, two days after everybody leaves town. And then they're going to say, well, gosh, we're really short of cash, so let's cut back on all kinds of social services that people depend on.

KASTE: In fact, the province has already been cutting back in education and health care. And many here worry that the cost of the Olympics will only make things worse.

(Soundbite of crowd)

KASTE: But for now, Vancouverites are feeling pretty good about how these games have gone. Just listen to the jaunty tune played by the foghorn on the city's waterfront.

(Soundbite of foghorn)

KASTE: Yes, that's the first four notes of "O Canada," which blare out across the downtown every time Canada wins a medal. And this week it played those notes a lot.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified People: Canada. Canada. Canada.

KASTE: Almost everybody down here is wearing Canada gear. Fred Melsman(ph) almost looks subtle in his shiny, red cowboy hat.

Mr. FRED MELSMAN: These have been the best Winter Olympics that have ever been held.

KASTE: And for him, the cherry on top for these Olympics is the big game today - it's Canada versus the U.S. in men's hockey.

Mr. MELSMAN: To end the games playing against the U.S. for the gold medal, a rematch from the semifinal game, you know, last week, perfect, perfect ending.

KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News, Vancouver.

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