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2010 Olympic Games begin in six months!

2010 Olympics: It’s our party, so let’s enjoy the moment

We have six months to stop complaining and get in the celebratory mood

Miro Cernetig, Vancouver Sun columnist: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

VANCOUVER — Not unlike a southern belle anticipating the debutantes’ ball, there are plenty of reasons for Vancouver to have butterflies over hosting the 2010 Olympics, this city’s international coming-out party.

Let’s consider a few of the things that are giving us the flutters.

We’ve been hit by massive cost overruns at the Olympic village, likely $100 million or more. It will be built in time for the athletes, staving off international embarrassment, but it’s going to be close. And after the Games, barring a miraculous turnaround in the condo market, the City of Vancouver will face a crunching bill.

Construction costs of Olympic sports venues were tens of millions of dollars higher than anticipated. And the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression has sucked out millions of dollars in sponsorship money and advertising revenues. Now facing a $40-million shortfall, Vancouver’s Olympic Organizing Committee is squeezing every penny to balance its books at $1.76 billion.

It’s also clear we can’t possibly solve the homelessness problem by the time the Olympic torch arrives. The Downtown Eastside remains much the same and the world’s media — who will be working out of the new convention centre — need only walk a few blocks to witness Canada’s most troubling urban ghetto.

But let’s take a breath, shall we?

Despite these obvious challenges and costly setbacks, which almost every host city endures, it’s probably safe to stop worrying about the Olympics being anything short of a hit. When it comes to Olympic Games, which have been known to leave a host city financially crippled, this has actually been a remarkably smooth buildup to the big event.

We might even want to start trying to feel good and embrace the party we’re about to hold. There are a lot of reasons to feel good about where we stand just six months before the Games begin.

Here are a few:

• There have been no corruption scandals surrounding these Games. It’s been clean in financial terms.

• The violent protests by anti-Olympics groups that occurred a few years ago have largely evaporated.

• More than 25,000 people have volunteered, free of charge, to help run the event.

• Olympic ticket sales have been over-subscribed, meaning people will come to the edifices taxpayers have built. In the middle of one of the worst recessions in history, our hotel rooms, restaurants and stores will be filled at what is normally a low season in the local economy.

• Another sign things are better than some of the headlines may suggest is that we’ve even managed to beat the Olympic curse — we didn’t have to fire the executives on the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee. Finding a sacrificial lamb is pretty much an Olympic tradition when things go sideways in the complex business of hosting a Games. Not spilling blood is proof that Vanoc has pretty much done its job.

One of the reasons for the relatively easy run is that despite the cost overruns, which have been limited in the case of the sports venues, the major elements of what make an Olympic Games successful are on track. In fact, they’re already built.

All the sports venues were completed far ahead of schedule, which means there’s little chance of last-minute paint-jobs or embarrassing rushes to the construction finish line, something that has plagued many Olympics in the past and generates massive cost overruns.

That early completion of sports facilities is likely going to help our chance at gold medals, too.

Vanoc chief John Furlong — who desperately hopes Canadians will take home gold on Canadian ice and snow — made an effort to have sports venues finished well before the Games for a very good strategic reason: It would give Canadian athletes plenty of practice time on the Olympic venues, allowing them to squeeze out every element of home-town advantage by getting to know the quirks of the surfaces they’ll compete on.

Yes, there has been one troubling glitch — the Olympic village. The cost has soared drastically over budget. But despite that imbroglio — which can be placed squarely at the feet of the City of Vancouver, not Vanoc — the risk of international embarrassment isn’t an issue during the Games. The village will be finished in time and, while it may turn out to be a financial disaster for the City of Vancouver, it will nevertheless be the slickest athletes’ village ever built for a Winter Olympics.

Another success can be found on the infrastructure front. Although they are officially considered non-Olympic expenses — though who believes it? — the major projects have been completed. The Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler has been successfully twinned and the Canada Line, from downtown to the airport and Richmond, will open three months ahead of schedule. Both appear to be on or under budget.

Even on the homelessness front, there is some progress. After years of dismissing the issue, the pressure of holding the Olympics finally pushed the provincial government and the City of Vancouver into partnership. Homelessness is a top-of-mind issue now. Hundreds of social housing units are on the planning books. Although most will only be ready years after the Olympics are over, the Games will provide the impetus to make new social housing one of the true legacies of 2010.

So, on balance, things are on track. Given the state of the global economy, things could have gone a lot worse. As a city, we’re ready, at least in logistical terms.

What’s left to do now is to stop complaining about the Olympics. They aren’t going away, folks. In fact, given our collective investment, isn’t it time to embrace them, just as we eventually did Expo 86?

Vancouver has a reputation for seeing everything through a parochial left-right, rich-versus-poor, Liberal against New Democrat prism. It’s part of the city’s often-whining character that’s given us that “No Fun City” reputation. It’s what burns up so much political and social energy here and holds us back as a great city.

Maybe in 2010 we’ll grow up and learn to enjoy our own party. We’ve got six months left to get in the mood.

mcernetig@vancouversun.com

2010 Olympic Games begin in six months

The venues are built and only one test event remains, but in many ways Vanoc is now entering its most crucial period

It's six months until the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Games. The venues are all built, on time, an extraordinarily rare feat in the Olympic world.

The organizing committee and the International Olympic Committee have inked some of the richest marketing deals in sports history, pumping coffers full of cash.

There have been no major political scandals and no catastrophic failures of test events.

And yet John Furlong isn't paying attention to what others see as a reason to celebrate. Like many of his staff, he has his head buried in work. There's still much to do, and they're all scrambling to get everything done just right, just in time or, as time marches on, just done.

In fact, the chief executive of the Vancouver Organizing Committee admitted recently that until a journalist reminded him, he'd not even realized he's just six months from D-Day.

It's a long ways from that day in Prague, Czech Republic in 2003 when he told bid chairman Jack Poole that "today we have moved a mountain" in winning the bid.

Now, Vanoc is finding itself trying to move another mountain, this time a financial one created by the economic downturn. As the start of the Games rapidly approaches, that giant marketing effort from domestic Canadian sponsorships has helped to close the gap, but not seal it.

The economic recession and the levelling of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. greenback delivered a wallop to Vanoc. Some companies that might have bid on contracts have gone under or don't have sufficient bank financing, so in some cases Vanoc has faced sharply higher costs from single bidders. In raw numbers, Vanoc is at least $40 million off the mark and possibly higher.

"It is an element that we hadn't really thought we'd be dealing with today," Furling said. "Our team felt that when we got into 2009 all of these budgets would be set and fixed and we wouldn't be faced with the kinds of things the whole country is faced with."

Vanoc won't give a precise figure, but the IOC still hasn't signed two "Olympic Program" sponsors worth $30 million to Vanoc's bottom line. Vanoc also has about $12 million in unsold billboard space. It recently admitted it will likely entirely use a $27-million revenue contingency it set aside in 2008 in addition to a $100-million contingency it created in 2005.

While ticket sales have gone well, Vanoc still hasn't sold all the tickets to its nightly victory ceremonies and some preliminary hockey and curling matches. Nor has it sold all its VIP ticket packages and high-value executive suites.

A number of corporate sponsors have run into financial trouble of their own, and they've cut back on plans to activate their sponsorships once the Games begin.

Even the business of going out of business has taken a hit; in 2003, Vanoc's predecessor bid committee suggested $10 million would be raised from the post-Games sale of everything from used desks and chairs to computers and telephone equipment. In recent months, Vanoc has said it doesn't expect to get as much as it originally planned.

Last week, Furlong gave an idea of what all this pressure has done to Vanoc: "We will probably not spend a day between now and the end where we are not evaluating a decision against the cost or methodology to deliver it."

Vanoc is constantly looking for "friends to do things that we are required to do and to remove a burden in that way," he said.

Hence, the surprise announcement recently to dramatically expand a corporate secondment program to recruit 1,500 staff paid for by others. So far, Vanoc has received several hundred calls from businesses and individuals wanting to take up the cause.

The pressure has created cracks within the normally guarded organization. Last month, in an unusually frank interview, Lucia Montanarella, Vanoc's director of press operations, told the Associated Press she was frustrated by the cuts.

"My vision is gone. I live in damage control now. All the 'nice to have things' -- you lose them. Going through budget cuts is not unusual, but it's much harder this time."

She said Vanoc's decision to set a high standard early may now come back to hurt it: "For Athens and Torino and maybe Barcelona, we all went without high expectations and we enjoyed it more," she said. "With the high expectations for Vancouver, it makes it more difficult to match."

Her conclusion that "I think they will be good Games, not spectacular," embarrassed Vanoc.

And yet Furlong said he's lost neither his enthusiasm nor his view that the Games will be spectacular.

"It's getting very exciting. It seems to me like the days since Prague have just evaporated, just gone," he said. "At the beginning, when we talked about not losing the days up front, I am sure glad we didn't. The venues are done and the kinds of things that have been major preoccupations for other committees past are not ours. We have other challenges, but not those. That's a good place for us to be in."

This is now the crucial period when Vanoc begins converting venues with temporary overlays needed for the Games. Last winter, Vanoc finished "shakedowns" of all the venues by hosting major competitions. They tested the fields of play, as well as things like timing and scoring systems and even volunteers.

Most came through with flying colours, meeting the requirements of the IOC, international sport federations and broadcasters. "We came out of those and we were quite satisfied with how they went," said Cathy Priestner, Vanoc's head of sport.

Still, her staff found a few things wanting. A safety wall at the biathlon range obstructed broadcast cameras, for example, and freezing spectators led to the construction of temporary warming huts. Adjustments were made to the downhill course in Whistler following a World Cup, while unspecified "glitches" at a snowboard event are forcing Vanoc to conduct another timing and scoring test.

Vanoc is also concerned about ice conditions at GM Place, the main hockey venue that will be known as Canada Hockey Place come Games-time. During the Olympics it will be used three times a day. The constant wear, combined with the humidity of a full house, could have an effect on ice quality, Priestner said.

"We're going to keep our eyes on the ice condition. It might cause us to work differently."

A women's hockey tournament, Vanoc's final test event, will be held at the arena starting Aug. 31.

Priestner's crew also had scheduling problems. Meals prepared for staff and athletes sometimes went uneaten because of timing conflicts, and they worried about the length of lineups at concession stands.

On the staffing front, Vanoc found it was tasking volunteers too much, particularly those in Whistler. Plans call for volunteers to be bussed in daily from Metro Vancouver, but test events showed their days became extraordinarily long. As a result, Vanoc will schedule people to work shifts on alternating days.

Meantime, within the next few weeks staff will begin installing the temporary services needed during the Games. The first to go in will be power cables, temporary footings for scoreboards and basic infrastructure.

Most people won't notice the changes at first, Priestner said, and Vanoc will try to keep the venues open to the public as long as possible. However, by late-November it will begin to shut down public access to Whistler Olympic Park, the Richmond Oval and Pacific Coliseum. It will also take over the athletes' villages in Vancouver and Whistler.

The biggest changes people will experience in the coming months, Priestner said, will be the buzz around the venues as workers begin the overlay process. Buildings being wrapped, streets being cleaned, signs erected and an increase in Olympic-related visitors will all signal the further growth of an Olympic city.

"The Games will be a celebration of sport, a celebration of the human spirit," Priestner said. "When you look at the legacies that have already been created as a result of these Games, you realize the power of the Olympic and Paralympic movements, and it's easy to stay motivated to do the very best job you can."

jefflee@vancouversun.com

Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 3:11 PM

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Will Vancouver Olympics leave an iconic venue?

By Jim Morris

USA TODAY

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.

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I will be there in 6 months and 1 day !!!!

I will watch the Opening Ceremony in France and will arrive on the saturday afternoon in Vancouver !!!

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