The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver was one of the most exciting, emotional and entertaining events in the history of Canada and has held the attention of the entire world riveted through every form of multi-media available.
As hosts, the Canadian Olympics Committee (COC) dared to make a very bold move by stating to Canadians and the world “We will own the Podium”.
It was a new idea and a very radical stance than had ever been taken by our Canadian athletes in the past. It was a bold initiative to shift the focus of our athletes and our “polite” Canadian culture to win the most medals of any country.
They backed up the statement by obtaining government and private funding to the tune of $117 million to achieve that dream. The funding went to two different areas. First and foremost was the training and preparation of the athletes. Secondly was the communication of the message “Own the Podium”. There were advertisements out on all the media. The hype began to build. Before the Olympics began the Olympic torch started its journey across Canada- a symbolic journey but a personal and emotional one for every Canadian that watched or carried the torch. Canadians began to buy red Olympic mittens and clothing with the logo “We Believe”.
When the Vancouver Olympics Games began on February 12th with it was with a target for more Canadian medals than any other country. The first Gold medal to be won on Canadian soil happened on February 14th by Alexandre Bilodeau in Skiing, hopes were still high. Then on February 22, Chris Rudge, head of the COC made a public announcement. The “Own the Podium” initiative had failed. Canada was sitting in 5th spot for medals and would not meet their target. Funding would be re-evaluated and the COC would take responsibility for this failure. Targets had now changed. Disappointing news for future Olympians and a debate ensued about creating too much pressure on our competing athletes.
If the COC had been aware of the Creative Process at the organizational level they would have been a little more confident in their own good work and realized that they were evaluating much too early. In terms of Create/ Communicate/ Initiate - everything had actually been done very, very well.
In the Create Phase their new idea of “Own the Podium” was backed up by “We Believe”, a recognition that that not only did they have to train athletes physically but also change their mindsets and the culture of a whole country.
In the Communicate Phase the torch had touched a huge number of Canadians. This was also the phase where television and newspapers began to sell the image of “Own the Podium” and “We Believe”. The red mittens and other clothing were concrete symbols as well as individual Olympic athletes promoting the “I Believe” message across Canada.
In the Initiate Phase when the Olympics began, the power of engaging the Canadian nation in the journey towards the event began to become apparent. The celebration of that first Gold medal on day two was immense and continued with Canadians following every triumph and defeat along the way. The courage of some of the athletes who continued to compete was enormous. Figure skater Joannie Rochette suddenly lost her mother and despite and her personal tragedy continued to compete and won a Bronze medal on February 25th. She touched the hearts of a Nation inspiring all Canadian athletes who were competing to “Go for gold”. The medal count continued to rise but not always where expected.
I believe it shows what happens when you engage the hearts and minds as well as the bodies of those in competitions. In the Canadian curling competition there were spontaneous outbursts of the crowd singing “Oh Canada”. It was all capped off by a very and riveting Canada vs. USA hockey game with every television set in Canada tuned in to watch as the game went to overtime and the pride of the nation and our performance on the line. When Sidney Crosby of Team Canada scored that winning goal our nation became entrenched in this new identity of "We Believe", "Own the Podium" and achieving high performance.
In the final count, Canada won 14 Gold medals, the most gold medals of any other competing nation. That is also the highest number of Gold medals ever won by any host nation winter or summer Olympics in history. We may not have “Owned the Podium” in total medals but we certainly did perform in terms of gold.
The COC did a marvelous job but had they been aware of the Creative Process, they may have considered different measures for their targets, they would have been able to make more timely decisions and would certainly be more confident in their roles.
They would also be able to pass on a legacy of “Process Leadership” to the next host of the Olympic games to ensure that high level of Olympic performance that the world has come to expect.
The Vancouver 2010 Olympics were most certainly an event that will go down in history to be remembered and probably the most significant role that they will play is the change in our cultural pride and how we view ourselves as Canadians.