The final year of preparations for the 2010 Games will be “tenfold” more challenging than any year before it, said VANOC CEO John Furlong last night at an event to mark the one-year countdown to the Games.

About a hundred journalists gathered at the Whistler Sliding Centre last night to watch the Olympic countdown clock turn to 365 days remaining before the Games.

“Just think about it,” Furlong said minutes after ringing a final-lap bell. “This time next year the Olympic flame will be metres away from the Olympic Stadium.

“The journey will be coming to an end and it will be the most unbelievable, magical time in the history of our province.”

Today, the actual one-year mark (the Olympics begin Feb. 12, 2010), celebrations will take place across B.C. and the country as VANOC has asked all Canadians across every time zone to make noise at 6 p.m.

In Richmond, the province will mark the one-year countdown at 5 p.m. with a celebration at the Richmond Olympic Oval. And in Vancouver, Grammy-winner Sarah McLachlan headlines a sold-out countdown concert. The world will also get its first glimpse of the Olympic torch and torchbearer uniforms during an unveiling ceremony in Whistler.

The next year, Furlong said, will be spent testing systems and programs and “perfecting the experience” that people will have at the Games.

He said he’s optimistic that the sports venues are completed — and are testing well with athletes — and that major infrastructure projects, like the Sea to Sky Highway, are nearing completion. One enormous challenge that remains will be the training of tens of thousands of Olympic volunteers.

International Olympics Committee president Jacques Rogge, who toured all the Olympic sporting venues yesterday, said he was pleased with VANOC’s progress.

“Everything bodes well for the future of the Games.”