The Olympics: What London Can Learn from Vancouver

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Daniel Berehulak / Getty

The 2012 London Summer Olympics logo

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But the other lesson from Canada is that you can go too far. The country's "Own the Podium" initiative — a $110 million program designed to put Canada on top of the medals table — generated almost as much criticism as podium finishes. The plan limited rivals' access to facilities like the sliding and speedskating tracks, prompting protests from foreign competitors. Some even suggested that it contributed to the tragic death of Georgian luge competitor Nodar Kumaritashvili. Others claimed that it heaped too much pressure on the home nation's athletes. London chair Coe has defended the initiative in recent days; a two-time Olympic track champion, he knows all about high expectations. But managing expectations, and limiting the grumbles of others, will surely be in London's interest.

When you invite the world to a party, there are going to be glitches. Transport snarls, a lack of early snow and a mechanical snafu during the opening ceremony prompted one British newspaper to label Vancouver a contender for "worst Games ever." But minor hitches are inevitable. So too is a little criticism. What matters is how you react. "Success is measured in part or determined by how well you respond or how you cure inefficiencies early on," says Hula. And in that sense, "[Vancouver] did very well."

For London, as with any host, it underlines the need for "testing, testing, testing," as Rogge urged for the Vancouver Games. The message seems to have got through. "We have an entire year built in to make sure we test, test, test," says Joanna Manning-Cooper, spokeswoman for the London organizing committee. In 2011, organizers will try out all 26 of the Games' venues, mounting everything from "mass participation jamborees" to full-blown international meets in order to test catering, toilets, turnstiles and transport.

Selling more obscure sports cleverly can work. Demand for many of the 9 million tickets that London organizers plan to sell will be fierce. For some events, though — think handball — organizers know they may have to coax fans along. But that doesn't mean it can't be done. Few Britons had ever heard of ski cross before the Vancouver Games, but the event, which pits four skiers simultaneously against one another over an undulating course, drew millions of television viewers. London organizers have been busy drawing up marketing plans to help push the lower-profile events. Vancouver may have given them some ideas.

Merchandising matters. O.K., so we've known that for a while. But ever since the over-commercialized Atlanta Games in 1996, host cities have made a big deal of being all about the sports while treating merchandising like a necessary evil. Vancouver proved it doesn't have to be that way. The enormous success of the red mittens — sales of the $10 gloves generated more than $12 million for Canadian sports — "helped us clarify our thinking around what could become the iconic collector's item of the Games," says Manning-Cooper. 2012 umbrella, anyone?

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