Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ain't misbehavin' (just asking questions)

A tanned, yet tense, John Furlong addressed the Vancouver Board of Trade on Feb. 11, the eve of the first anniversary of the 2010 Winter Olympics' opening in Vancouver. It was the first major event in Vancouver of his book tour to promote his memoir, Patriot Hearts.

Furlong's credibility was under attack after revelations by CBC's Fifth Estate that he knew there were serious doubts about safety at the Whistler Sliding Centre in March 2009. Less than a year later, the opening day of the Vancouver Games was marred by the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili near the end of a training run.

After his speech at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, Furlong spoke with media. I had to ask him about a key passage in his book where he mentions a secret deal with then Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov before the International Olympic Committee's 2010 host city election in 2003. Vancouver would share notes with and give Russians bidding for the 2012 Summer Games a tutorial. In exchange, Vancouver would get the six or seven Russian votes.

National Public Radio's Howard Berkes was intrigued. He wrote a story that indicates the Furlong/Storey/Luzhkov deal may constitute a breach of the IOC's own Code of Ethics, which says:

"No candidate may enter into any promise or undertaking to be performed, whatever the timing of such performance, for the direct or indirect benefit of a member, a group of members, an organization or a region."

I asked Furlong for his reaction:

“The Mayor of Moscow is not an IOC member, you can talk to anybody but IOC members, that's what we did."

He also denied there was a "promise".

“We agreed to assist each other and the Mayor of Moscow, in return for us giving a hand to help us organize a bid, he told us he would try to influence them helping us. Plain and simple, happens all the time.”

Storey lost a bid for a fifth four-year term with FIBT in a September meeting at Lake Placid, N.Y. Italy's Ivo Ferriani edged the Ottawa-based Storey by two votes for the presidency. Luzhkov, coincidentally, was fired by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev two weeks later.

I also was curious about Furlong's relationship with Catherine Bachand, his former executive assistant.

The book is dedicated "To Catherine and the Canadian spirit."

There is a glowing acknowledgement to her on the final page.

"This book, just like the Games, was a walk on thin ice for me. A thousand times along the way I might have given up. I am grateful beyond words that I did not and am thankful for the support, encouragement, compassion, love, deep loyalty and inspiration of my dearest friend Catherine Bachand -- demonstrated in a thousand ways. Hers is a patriot heart. Thank you so much!"

Twice-married Furlong, who is intensely private, made no other mention of Bachand anywhere else in the book and he did not wish to discuss their relationship, which he insists is a friendship.

Mackin: "The book is dedicated to Catherine and you thank her at the end, but don't mention her in the actual text. I just wonder why?"

Furlong: "I wrote the book, it was my choice. She was my best friend..."

Mackin: "Was there any issue among the board or management about your friendship with her. Was there ever any push-back?

Furlong: "Stop it. She was my best friend. Behave yourself, I've answered you. Behave yourself."

Flashback: Feb. 12, 2010

Coroners service shuts sliding centre
Bob Mackin, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER: The Whistler Sliding Centre is closed while officials from the British Columbia Coroners Service investigate the death of a Georgian luger who died Friday morning in a training session.

Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, crashed in the final training session Friday morning. The Whistler Sliding Centre is the fastest sledding track in the world.

“The facility is currently closed for the purpose of this investigation,” BCCS provincial director Jeff Dolan told QMI. “Once the coroner or other investigators determine it’s safe to reopen the track, they will do so.”
Dolan said the luger’s fatal injuries will be examined, the equipment and track will be inspected and a detailed account of the
incident will be compiled.

The death was the most noteworthy sports event tragedy in the region since Molson Indy Vancouver track worker Jean Patrick Hein was struck by the racecar driven by Willy T. Ribbs on Sept. 2, 1990 near B.C. Place Stadium.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Where are they now?

Some called them Smurfs. Others simply "Blue Jackets". They were the core employees of the Vancouver Olympic committee. Many of them gathered at the Vancouver Convention Centre for a reunion on Feb. 12, after the Olympic cauldron on Jack Poole Plaza was re-activated.

VANOC executives and management have gone their separate ways. They appear to have followed three different paths. Some are continuing in the world of sport, others were appointed to senior positions with British Columbia Crown corporations while several have embarked boldly on new ventures.


CEO John Furlong is now chairman of the Own the Podium advisory board and a director of Whistler Blackcomb, which is now traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Furlong's main source of income, for the short-term, appears to be as a motivational speaker. His Patriot Hearts memoir is key to that strategy. Furlong was named to the board of the Rocky Mountaineer tourist train in March.

Furlong is a former CEO of SportBC, the province's umbrella for amateur sports organizations. VANOC's vice-president of sport Tim Gayda was appointed CEO last year.

The only senior VANOC executive to have a senior appointment with the International Olympic Committee is chief financial officer John McLaughlin. McLaughlin was appointed to the 2018 Winter Games evaluation commission. The temporary appointment means trips to Annecy, France, Munich, Germany and PyeongChang, South Korea. McLaughlin is the commission's financial specialist.

Director of ice sports/general manager hockey Denis Hainault has a similar job with Sochi 2014.

Paula Kim was in charge of press operations at B.C. Place Stadium, the opening, closing and medals ceremonies venue. She is senior communications manager with the International Triathlon Union in North Vancouver, the only summer Olympic sports federation based in Canada.

Brand creative director Ali Gardiner is now vice-president of marketing and game presentation with Canucks Sports and Entertainment. Lawyer Chris Gear now heads CSE's legal department.

Canada's next sports mega-event is the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. Vice-president of workforce Allen Vansen is the senior vice-president of transportation, security and village for the Toronto 2015 organizing committee. He was appointed days after the riot-marred G20 summit.

Director of merchandising and licensing Dennis Kim was appointed the Canadian Olympic Committee's executive director brand marketing.

Jason Macnaughton went to the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer as communications director and wrapped up a one-year contract March 31, leaving the reins to fellow VANOC alumnus Carly Thorson Jokic.


Top level executives have made their way into jobs with British Columbia Crown corporations. This demonstrates the influence of Premier Gordon Campbell.

Construction executive vice-president Dan Doyle: BC Hydro chairman was first in summer 2009. Deputy CEO Dave Cobb followed in May 2010 to become the power monopoly's CEO. Cobb, in turn, hired VANOC vice-president of communications Renee Smith-Valade, Chris Brumwell, Greg
Alexis and Jennifer Young in a major overhaul of the communications department.

Chief Information Officer Ward Chapin now has the same job with ICBC. Workforce and sustainability executive vice-president Donna Wilson is Vice-president of industry services and sustainability at WorkSafeBC. Government relations and celebrations executive vice-president David Guscott is the E-Comm 9-1-1 CEO.


The best advice imparted by Furlong to the Sochi 2014 organizing committee at the June 2010 knowledge transfer sessions in Russia was to "stick together."

That's precisely what several VANOC employees have done, creating their own post-Games clusters.

Vice-president marketing Andrea Shaw is managing partner of the Twentyten Group. Shaw's company in the Landing in Gastown became the post-October 2010 home of VANOC, or what was left of it. Coincidentally, Twentyten Group's office is one floor below where the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation was based when it was awarded the 2010 Games on July 2, 2003.

Shaw is joined by commercial rights manager Bill Cooper, who is a senior partner with Twentyten. Associates include Mags Doehler, Breedon Grauer, Catherine Locke, Rob Mullowney, Kala Polman-Tuin and Stephanie Cornish.

Paralympics director Dena Coward leads a group at the Rick Hansen Foundation's Man in Motion 25th Anniversary Celebration. Torch relays director Jim Richards is coordinating Hansen's international tour. VANOC communications staffers Suzanne Reeves, Mary Fraser and John Gibson have joined them.

Vice-president of partnerships and strategy Taleeb Noormohamed is president of e-learning concern Serebra Learning Corp, and running as the Liberal Party candidate in the May 2 federal election in North Vancouver. Director of ticketing Chris Stairs is Serebra's vice-president of sales, while manager of partnerships Matthew Bonguorno is sales manager and torch relay communications manager Jenee Elborne is director of communications.

Did I miss anyone? Let me know:

Furlong in for a rough ride

Bob McKeown wore number 42 as a centre with the Canadian Football League's Ottawa Rough Riders in the early 1970s but he couldn't relax and watch the big four-down game on Super Sunday. That didn't matter, he had to do what he could to preserve the Big Story.

The Fifth Estate reporter was scheduled to interview John Furlong, who happens to be a former Gaelic football player, on Monday in Toronto, when the VANOC CEO was kicking-off a tour to promote his memoir, Patriot Hearts. Furlong, however, wanted to see the documents CBC obtained first, so he could be prepared.

"We arranged to meet him in the lobby of the Royal York," McKeown told me on Feb. 10. "Usually we don't show people things before interviews but this only seemed fair."

The documents are the now famous emails from March 2009 that quote Furlong as being concerned about safety of the Whistler Sliding Centre.

“An athlete gets badly injured, or worse, and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing."

Less than a year later, Nodar Kumaritashvili died on opening day of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Furlong was grief-stricken, but the emails question whether VANOC was guilty of ignoring warnings.

McKeown found out VANOC vice-president of communications Renee Smith-Valade went into damage control mode and convinced the board of directors to leak the documents to official broadcaster CTV and sponsor Globe and Mail.

So McKeown went on-air during the National on Sunday night, which is why he missed the Super Bowl. Normally, he said, a documentary airing on a Friday night would be edited by a Sunday. Not this case. He re-interviewed Furlong, added another interview with David Kumaritasvhili, the victim's father, and talked to former Chief Coroner Diane Rothon.

It will all be revealed on Friday, Feb. 11 at 9 p.m. (and repeated Sunday at 10 a.m.) on the Fifth Estate's Death at the Olympics.

"We've done a lot of stories which have been contentious never had one of the characters in the story leaking the material to other people," he said.

McKeown said he "admired the job (Furlong) did on the Games very much."

"He's a very direct guy in certain ways. Once he knew we had these documents, though he was also sharing them with others, he lived up to his commitment to talk to us."

But Furlong was not entirely forthcoming because "there are topics he clearly wants to avoid."

Though ruled an accident by the B.C. Coroners Service, Kumaritashvili's relative inexperience and the speed, difficulty and G-forces of the track were the the contributing factors. But FIL blamed driver error.

"Three of the four were directly related to the design of the track," McKeown said.

Furlong claimed that VANOC did all safety modifications the two federations agreed upon.

"They didn't," McKeown said. "When he says they did everything they (FIL and FIBT) asked, that's not really true. They did everything they both signed-off on.

"To the best of our knowledge those modifications were not made. I've asked John Furlong directly several times, this last interview I asked him seven times."

Death at the Olympics includes interviews with outspoken American luger Tony Benshoof and Patrick Singleton, a luger from Bermuda, whose Bermuda shorts are on display at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.

Be warned, the documentary includes footage of the crash and some of the grisly aftermath. The sound of Kumaritashvili striking an unpadded pole still makes me shiver. But McKeown said it is necessary to tell the story.

"That's one of those calls, I fully understand people that say why do we have to watch this again, we only show it in action once and otherwise we rely on the stills to do it," McKeown said. "But to understand what happened, how it happened and the role the track played you really have to see that unfortunately."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Slippery Slope

No laughing matter. VANOC CEO John Furlong (left) with IOC member Rene Fasel at the Whistler Sliding Centre, site of the fatal Feb. 12, 2010 luge crash by Nodar Kumaritashvili (VANOC photo).

Just when John Furlong Incorporated -- author and public speaker -- was set to launch, the facade is beginning to fade.

The CEO of VANOC spent the first day of a book tour Feb. 6 in damage control mode, trying to explain what he meant in a now-famous email written March 24, 2009, less than a year before the death of a Georgian luger on opening day..

“An athlete gets badly injured, or worse, and I think the case could be made we were warned and did nothing."

Contrast that with what he says in Patriot Hearts, Furlong's memoir:

"We had confronted make-believe plane crashes, riots, major injuries, mustard gas -- you name it and we had prepared for it. But never in our wildest dreams did we imagine the death of an athlete on opening day,”

In a Feb. 6 media teleconference, he said:

"We had this track and this one sport, not both of them, was saying it was faster than they wanted. I wanted to make sure any obligation that we had we were carrying it out properly and professionally and doing what was necessary. And we were."

"Before the Games started, the sports signed off on the track and if for example FIL or FIBT wanted something new or different done, they would've asked us or should've asked us, but they didn't."

"If the sports felt it wasn't safe they would've told us. If they felt it wasn't safe and didn't tell us, that would be an entirely different thing. But I believe and I think our teem believed, and everybody believed, it was ready for competition."

So what you can take away from all this is that Furlong and VANOC acted as if they were the servants to foreign sports organization masters. Yes, it's proper to build to the specifications of the sports. But it is even more important to ensure that taxpayers of British Columbia and Canada were served. The track was, after all, paid for by hardworking Canadians and not the bobsled, skeleton or luge bodies.

Hindsight is 20/20. VANOC should have hired an independent consultant to gauge the situation.

The "VANOC way" has always been to deny, defer and delay. The organization never wanted to be seen to be losing. In this case, it's shirking responsibility and pointing the finger at FIL and FIBT. Those organizations deserve to be held accountable. So too, VANOC.

The new revelations could open VANOC to a lawsuit. And it needn't happen immediately. British Columbia's statute of limitations is two years, which means David Kumaritashvili could hire a lawyer and file a claim as late as Feb. 12, 2012.

What he knew when he received a $150,000 insurance settlement is different from what he knows now. VANOC knew there was a danger and feared it could be negligent.

CBC, which uncovered this information, promises more on Fifth Estate, Feb. 11. The eve of the first anniversary of Kumaritashvili's death that shook the Vancouver Games.

VANOC worried about Whistler Sliding Centre safety in March 2009

More: VANOC worried about Whistler Sliding Centre safety in March 2009

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Reality check: Coroner doesn't play blame game

Vancouver 2010 will forever be known for the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, the 21-year-old Georgian luger who flew off the Whistler Sliding Centre track near the end of his final training run on the opening day of the Games.

The track was faster than it should have been, but it was marketed as the world's most extreme. Until the Feb. 12, 2010 tragedy.

VANOC CEO John Furlong revealed in his memoir, Patriot Hearts, that Kumaritashvili's family was to receive $150,000 from an insurance policy. Before the payment was made, Furlong traveled to the funeral in Georgia and brought with him the euro equivalent of $25,000 in cash. That was the proceeds from a VANOC podium auction.

Near the end of the book, however, Furlong makes a key error in reference to the British Columbia Coroners Service investigation. Coroner Tom Pawlowski, not Chief Coroner Diane Rothon, ruled the death accidental. Read the report here.

What does Furlong say on page 325?

"The chief coroner of B.C. has handed down his report and found no blame…"

The B.C. Coroners Service website says:

The Coroners Service is a fact-finding, not a fault-finding agency that provides an independent service to the family, community, government agencies and other organizations. The Coroners Act and Regulation governs the coroner's scope of activity.

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