The city should take a bow for a stellar show,
We welcomed the Americas and did it in a world-class way
Toronto, you’ve simply outdone yourself. No doubt about it.
For the past two weeks, the Pan Am Games and accompanying Panamania Festival have been nothing short of spectacular.
Canada’s winning a record number of medals has certainly been inspiring. Yet as hosts, we’ve shown the way big time.
Not that there weren’t glitches and areas for improvement. But we proved before the Games opened we are gold medallists in bellyaching and inertia, as Mayor John Toronto so elegantly put it.
Yet starting with the eye-popping opening ceremonies, we’ve presented ourselves at our very best. Our generosity of spirit, our openness and our diversity shone through. We proved, beyond any doubt, that we can host a huge hemispheric sports bonanza in superb fashion. And even get excited about it. Out of eight events I attended, there wasn’t one at which the crowd was anything but boisterous, chauvinistic and totally into what was taking place. And each venue was sold out, or close to it — save for those annoying special official sections, often near empty.
From the intensity of Markham’s badminton fiends to the sheer yelling of Scarborough’s synchronized diving fans to the raw gutsiness of a shivering beach volleyball throng, the spirit everywhere was infectious.
And the volunteers, all 23,000 of them. In signature orange shirts, they seemed everywhere. If you were ever in doubt or had a question, several were inevitably nearby.
In my view, the sheer cumulative impact of volunteers at both the Calgary and Vancouver Olympics was critical in making them huge successes. Toronto has been their equal, if not better. And some of the personal stories of commitment and dedication have been downright compelling.
Then there has been the serendipity of the unexpected. Who could have predicted the buzz of excitement or huge crowds at the nightly songfest in Nathan Phillips Square? Or the fascination with a TORONTO sign?
Or Donovan Bailey spiralling in from atop the dome at the Rogers Centre? Or the blitzkrieg of fireworks on the CN Tower? Or, on a personal note, the once-in-a lifetime experience of watching a family member battle for a gold medal.
Then there has been the look of the city itself.
It’s been said that once all construction is finished, it’ll look great. Well, we got a sneak preview. With many hoardings removed, Union Station revealed and flower pots everywhere, the city seemed, well, inviting. Finally a word about traffic. Quite frankly, I despaired of all the griping and near hysteria that enveloped HOV lanes and fears of traffic paralysis before the Games opened.
Simply put: the plan worked. Everywhere you went, people talked of how traffic wasn’t that bad. Drivers made adjustments, some stayed at home and we cruised through. And we’re even talking of new ways in which to use HOV lanes.
Undoubtedly there are still some who feel the whole exercise hasn’t been worth it. Let them stew. But even they will be hard pressed to say we didn’t pull it off.
Toronto, take a well-deserved bow. John Honderich is the chair of Torstar’s board of directors and former publisher of the Star.