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Were the Olympics worth it for Vancouver?

Vancouver hopes the games will have helped transform the picturesque Canadian city into an international investment center.

Fireworks explode over BC Place Stadium at the end of the closing ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, Feb. 28, 2010. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

VANCOUVER, Canada — Despite the golden glow of the hockey finale, despite the rousing closing ceremonies farewell, there is an ineffable sadness in the streets of Vancouver. And the airport is jammed with tens of thousands of weary people, seemingly desperate to get out of town.

It is undeniably the morning after. And unlike Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival in Rio, a summer solstice music festival in Paris or even the Super Bowl festivities, where regret co-mingles with wait-’til-next-year anticipation, the Olympics are gone — and gone from Vancouver forever. This party will never be repeated here.

The fear and, in some quarters, loathing that marked the long run-up to the Olympics will not return either. Whatever the costs of this spectacle — and the security tab, for example approached $1 billion, about six times the preliminary estimates — it is unlikely to prove a repeat of Montreal 1976 debacle, with the city saddled with debt for decades to come.

Moreover, the imagined worst-case scenarios were not realized. True, an athlete died. However, it was early and but one tragic death in a big city and vast Olympic empire. The games have played on under more dire circumstances.

Moreover, in a giddy, Sally Field way, Vancouver rejoiced in the discovery that the world liked it. (The notable exception was the British press, which was relentlessly critical, presumably a reflection of its own anxieties about London 2012.)

Tourism will certainly get a boost. Those who were enchanted on TV don’t really care that the torch was obscured by a chain-link fence, that snow had to be choppered in, or that the transportation system for media occasionally got bogged down in traffic. And most visitors who were inconvenienced or disappointed by such matters were won over anyway — by the compelling competitions, the beauty of the region and cordiality of the natives (in all matters other than hockey).

Still, worries will now spring up about the legacy of Vancouver 2010. Everyone here believes this has to amount to more than a 17-day sports festival. More even than a hockey gold medal. And while the new transportation infrastructure and improvements were needed, that’s hardly enough to justify the decade in the making of this vast endeavor.