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Book Reviews

Patriot Hearts: Inside the Olympics That Changed a Country

by John Furlong with Gary Mason

Arriving exactly one year after the 2010 Olympics, this memoir by John Furlong, the former chief of the Vancouver Olympic Committee, is partly about the author’s journey from Ireland to Canada, and from an obscure amateur sports administrator to an international power broker who can demand a few minutes of the Prime Minister’s time – and get it. Most of all, however, it is a story about sticking to one’s vision, no matter what other people say.

The most interesting parts of the book are the insider accounts of the strategic moves, conflicts, and petty ego clashes involved in staging such a colossal event. During the bidding process, Furlong largely avoided Dick Pound, one of Canada’s most experienced Olympic insiders, because of Pound’s reputation as an arrogant loudmouth who has made plenty of enemies. Cirque de Soleil CEO Guy Laliberté comes off as oblivious to VANOC’s vision and preoccupied with his own interests. Furlong also calls out Quebec journalists who blasted VANOC for not including enough French content in the opening ceremonies, claiming that such critics were ignorant of the fact that the committee had courted Quebecois artists and been rebuffed.

Furlong doesn’t mention the e-mails, recently made public, that strongly suggest he knew there were concerns about the safety of the luge track, despite the fact that the death of 21-year-old Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili just hours before the opening ceremonies forms a central part of the book’s second half. Furlong questions how to be respectful of the athlete and his family while also keeping the events on schedule and maintaining focus in the face of a media firestorm. He does insist that the International Luge Federation was out of its league during the crisis, and he rebuts media accounts suggesting Canada had torqued the track for home-ice advantage.

Throughout the book, Furlong comes across as an eternal optimist, and his belief in the power of sport to change the world frequently verges on pollyannaish. But by the end, it is clear Furlong’s particular brand of zeal, perseverance, and focus is required to put on such a complicated and successful spectacle.