Rogge says 2010 Games on track

WHISTLER, British Columbia -- International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge predicted the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics will be a success, despite the global financial crisis.

Rogge was in western Canada as part of celebrations to mark the one-year countdown to the Games. He said Wednesday at a news conference that everything appears to be on track for the Games, which open exactly one year from Thursday.

"I have been extremely pleased with the progress of the organization," Rogge said.

"I think everything will go well for the Games."

Rogge acknowledged the Olympics in general have not been immune to the effects of the global economic crisis.

"Very clearly, there has been a focus on keeping costs as low as possible," Rogge said.

The organizing committee has dipped into its contingency fund to the tune of $40 million to cover rising costs because of the slowing economy.

The city also just approved a new budget that will allow it to borrow $350 million or more to take over building of the athletes' village after the original lender stopped payment because of cost overruns and a crashing real estate market.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson recently announced taxpayers are "on the hook" for village costs.

Rogge said he's confident Vancouver can recoup its costs through sales of the village condos.

He said a similar approach is being used in London for the 2010 Summer Games.

"We're very confident the village will be ready in time," Rogge said.

The Vancouver Games have an operating budget of $1.63 billion -- a $104 million increase over the original budget that was developed about two years ago.

Games security was originally estimated at $140 million to be split between the provincial and federal governments. The Canadian government has since acknowledged that cost could be as high as $800 million -- or 1 billion in Canadian funds.

British Columbia's finance minister Colin Hansen acknowledged Monday that B.C.'s share of security costs will "likely" blow a hole in the province's total Games budget.

Rogge said he could not comment on the security costs. He told a news conference security infrastructure will leave a legacy that will outlast the 17 days of the Games.

When the latest Canadian budget was released Jan. 27, there were no Olympic security numbers.

Organizing committee CEO John Furlong said the final figures are expected soon. He said Rogge had not been briefed on security costs.

Rogge toured alpine venues at Whistler before presenting a clock to count down the days to the Games.

Rogge traveled the 90 miles from Vancouver to Whistler on the Sea-to-Sky Highway. The winding, and sometimes deadly road has long been considered the Games' biggest weakness. The road was closed for several days last summer when a massive rock slide covered what is the only direct route between Vancouver and Whistler

It was recently expanded at a cost of nearly $500 million.

Rogge said he was pleased with the highway having arrived ahead of schedule. He said years ago that the drive was too long.

On Thursday, Rogge will unveil the 2010 Olympic relay torch and torchbearer uniforms. Later Thursday, Rogge will invite the world to Vancouver for the Games in a ceremony at the speedskating oval in the suburb of Richmond. Rogge will be joined by British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, Furlong and other dignitaries.

The day wraps up with a sold-out concert featuring Canadian performers such as singer Sarah McLachlan and the Alberta Ballet.