Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Will Vancouver Olympics leave an iconic venue?

I was interested to read the following story published in USA Today as well as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. It also appeared on the CTV website and reprinted int the Globe and Mail and other newspapers. As stated, I believe that the legacy of the Olympics will not be as significant as that of Expo 86. More on this later.

By Jim Morris

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The sloping roof of the Saddledome, the venue for ice hockey and figure skating at the 1988 Olympics, is part of Calgary's skyline. Across town, the Olympic Oval remains a breeding ground for some of the world's best speedskaters.

The Bird's Nest, a breathtaking blend of beauty and function, became a symbol of the pride and opulence of last summer's Beijing's Games. Years after the 1994 Lillehammer Games, speedskating records still fall at the Vikingskipet Arena in Hamar, Norway. Its roof resembled an upside down Viking ship.

Hosting an Olympics often leaves an iconic building. Even Olympic Stadium in Montreal -- for good or bad -- remains a reminder of the 1976 Summer Games.

But for the Vancouver Games, which open six months from Wednesday, the closet thing to an Olympic legacy might be the Richmond Oval speedskating facility. The building is less than 10 miles (16 kilometers) outside downtown and will be converted to a recreation complex after the Olympics.

In Vancouver, many of the major venues already existed. The Olympic benefit for citizens may come from a 12-mile (19-kilometer) rapid transit line that connects the airport to downtown and a sparkling new convention center.

Michael Geller, of the Centre for Sustainable Community Development, argues that hosting the 1986 World's Fair -- which started the development of Vancouver's False Creek area -- had a bigger impact on the city than the Olympics will.

"We were already well on our way to becoming a world city," Geller said in a recent interview. "The Olympics, from my point of view, will not be as life-changing for Vancouver as other Olympics have been in other cities."

These Olympics will be held in Vancouver and Whistler, a ski resort more than 70 miles (110 kilometers) north. The organizing committee, known as VANOC, has spent $529 million building new venues or upgrading facilities. All the venues will be used after the Olympics.

Nathalie Lambert, mission chief for Canada's 2010 Games team, said a legacy of usable sports facilities is more important than eye-popping structures that sit idle and rust when the Olympic flame is extinguished.

In China, soot has already dulled the Bird's Nest and paint is starting to peel. The magnificent Water Cube is being converted to a water park and shopping center.

"It's very nice to have the Bird's Nest in China," said Lambert, a short-track speedskater who competed in Calgary "But if you have a stadium you can use for lots of different events, or you can use for sports, that's even better."

The Richmond Oval is part of a facility that will become a community recreation center. Included in the center will be two international-sized rinks that can be used for short-track speedskating. Officials say the infrastructure will remain for speedskating World Cups if the events are financially viable.

The building sits on the banks of the Fraser River, near Vancouver's airport. Large panes of glass that form the entire north wall allow natural light and provide an eye-catching view of the river and the North Shore Mountains.

Chris Rudge, chief executive officer with the Canadian Olympic Committee, said the oval rivals any of Beijing's facilities.

"The outside of the building, the environmental integration into the community and its presence on the river, I think will make it iconic," he said.

Another legacy could be the athletes' village. The waterfront project is mostly funded by the city, but costs have ballooned after financial backers pulled out. The city hopes to recoup the money by selling the housing units after the games.

"It will always be known as the Olympic village, I suspect," Geller said. "Whether it is viewed as a positive legacy or a big owe remains to be seen."

Most of the new construction was in Whistler. Whistler Olympic Park will host cross-country skiing, ski jumping and biathlon. The Whistler Sliding Centre on Blackcomb Mountain will be the site for bobsled, luge and skeleton.

Late last month a lightning strike caused a fire on Blackcomb Mountain, but none of the Olympic venues was threatened.

In Vancouver, the men's and women's gold-medal ice hockey games will be played at the GM Place, the home of the NHL's Canucks. The building will be known as Canada Hockey Place during the games.

Short-track speedskating and figure skating will be at Pacific Coliseum, home of the Vancouver Giants of the minor Western Hockey League.

The fanfare of the opening and closing ceremonies will light up B.C. Place, the home of the Canadian Football League's Lions. A retractable roof will be put on the stadium after the games. Vancouver's Major League Soccer team will begin play there in 2011.

UBC Thunderbird Arena will host men's and women's preliminary ice hockey games. It will become a recreational and high-performance multisport facility.

Curling will be in the Canada Olympic Centre, which will later serve as a multipurpose community recreation building. Freestyle skiing and snowboarding will be at Cypress Mountain on Vancouver's North Shore.

All venues have been tested with international competitions for the last two years.

"The venues are rated as among the best in the world," said John Furlong, VANOC's chief executive officer. "The field of play will be stunning. The television pictures will be stunning."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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