Few Canadians have the Olympic connections that Nancy Greene has.
Apart from being an Olympic medallist, being awarded Canada’s Female Athlete of the Century and Olympic Ambassador, Greene was chosen to light the Olympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Games. Fellow Canadian sport icons Steve Nash, Rick Hansen, Catriona Le May Doan and Wayne Gretzky also participated in the ceremony.
Greene said holding the Olympic torch aloft in front of millions of spectators from around the world is an experience she’ll never forget. She considers it a highlight of her duties as Olympic Ambassador.
“John Furlong asked me (to participate in the opening ceremony) the day Barbara Ann Scott brought the torch into the House of Commons,” said Greene. She was recruited for this role before Christmas, and like a spy on a mission, was told to keep it a secret.
It wasn’t difficult for Greene to follow orders. “I knew that if it got out, then I would be replaced. Plus, not being the only person, I could honestly say that I didn’t know who would be lighting the cauldron.”
Although the opening ceremony certainly entertained, the mechanical glitch put a damper on the whole spectacle. Thankfully, they had a Plan B.
“We were kept informed though earphones by the director David Atkins, as he gave his instructions to the workers to try to un-jam it manually, then he called for the backup plan which involved reprogramming the three ‘legs’ to deploy. It seemed like an eternity,” said Greene.
“Then he instructed Catriona Le May Doan to move forward and salute the VIP box while the rest of us carried on as rehearsed. When we finally left the stadium there was only about 20 seconds of gas left (in the torch). I still can’t believe how cool Mr. Atkins was—with three billion people watching.”
Indeed, the glitch is a miniscule Olympic predicament that gave Canada bad publicity abroad. However, Canada isn’t the only Olympic host country who’s encountered criticism in the past, and likely won’t be the last. It all comes down to whether Canada can handle each blow with grace and integrity as any seasoned Olympic athlete would, and it starts with the performance of the not-so-visible but essential reinforcement, a.k.a. the volunteers.
Competing against the elements, volunteers worked feverishly behind the scenes to make sure the Olympics went on as planned.
“In spite of very difficult weather and snow conditions, the thousands of volunteers are managing to get the courses in great shape, and the competitions have been fair and exciting to watch,” said Greene.
Greene cited two more highlights of her job: “The very moving ceremony as the flame arrived at the Four Host Nations Pavilion, and the obvious impact this is having on many First Nations” and “meeting our gold medallists—they’re awesome.”
Although being an Olympic Ambassador is an unpaid job, with all these memorable Olympic experiences, Greene says she’s already received her reward.