It was 3 a.m. in yet another hotel room and John Furlong awoke scared and disoriented. He was in the midst of a two-million-kilometre slog selling the conclave of the International Olympic Committee on Vancouver’s virtues as an Olympic bid city. This night he had no clue where he was. He wandered outside in pyjamas, cold, dazed, in bare feet, peering in shop windows until he learned he was in St. Moritz. He ran back to his hotel, praying no one had seen the addled state of Canada’s chief Olympic salesman. It wasn’t the first time the Games almost went off the rails.
One year after the opening ceremonies, Furlong, the Irish immigrant who rose from a cog in a long-shot bid to the CEO of one of the most successful mass celebrations in Canadian history, reveals the backstage drama. Patriot Hearts is a gossipy gallop across the emotional arc of the Games, from heroics on and off the snow and ice to jaw-dropping examples of petty intrigues, jealousies and tragedy. He settles some scores, admitting he shut Canada’s senior IOC member Dick Pound out of the bid process, fearing the hyper-opinionated Pound had amassed too many enemies. Furlong reveals an all-too-Canadian drama behind the opening ceremonies. A key segment of the show was built around the iconic Quebec song Mon Pays, by chansonnier Gilles Vigneault. As the event approached, Vigneault, an ardent nationalist, refused to allow his song to be used anywhere a Maple Leaf was displayed or in “any kind of setting that effectively promoted Canada as a country that included Quebec.” The segment died, and a fuming Furlong was roasted for insufficient French-language content. Score one for the nationalists.
Above all, this is a story of teamwork and leadership, how a shy, sports-obsessed introvert used boyhood lessons from the playing fields of Ireland to navigate the murky world of the IOC. It’s something to think about as you watch the kids from the edge of soccer pitches and hockey rinks. “Sports changed my life,” he says, and maybe Canada, too.