Some question cost of Olympic venues

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- On a chilly fall evening, a jogger runs laps on the track where Canadian speedskater Christine Nesbitt claimed Olympic gold a few months earlier.

A short distance away, the arena where curler Kevin Martin was crowned Olympic champion is being converted into a skating rink and the walls are going up on a new curling club.

At Rogers Arena, the Canucks are in the midst of their NHL season, playing on the same ice where Sidney Crosby sent a nation into delirium with his overtime goal to win Olympic hockey gold.

In the 10 months since the flame was extinguished at the Vancouver Olympics, the venues are still being used. While a few will host elite competitions in the future, others have been turned into community facilities and might never see another international event.

"In almost every case it's working exactly as we hoped for," said John Furlong, the man who headed the Vancouver organizing committee, known as VANOC.

"As an organizing committee we took the sustainability for Olympic venues to a completely different place than we've seen in the past," he said. "In Turin [host of the 2006 Winter Games], some of those venues simply were dismantled immediately. In some cases, the venue is no longer used for sport. In our case, they are all used for sport."

Vancouver organizers spent nearly $580 million building new venues or upgrading existing facilities for the 2010 Olympics. Furlong believes taxpayers are receiving a fair return on their investment with facilities that offer public recreation and will help develop future elite athletes.

"We have given the public who paid for these venues good and fair access to them so they can enjoy them as well," he said.

Others don't share Furlong's enthusiasm.

Chris Shaw, a neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia, was a vocal opponent of the Games. He questions how much the public will really use the venues.

"Can they be a thing the people will use? Yes," Shaw said. "Are they the thing people would have chosen, based on priorities? Probably not.

"Are they things most of us are going to use? Probably not," Shaw said.

Among the venues built specifically for the Games, the Whistler Sliding Centre ($105 million), Whistler Olympic Park ($120 million) and Richmond Olympic Oval (VANOC contributed $63 million toward the building's $178 million cost) carried the biggest price tags.

A $110 million fund was created to help finance operation of these venues after the Games.

The rugged sliding centre built on Blackcomb Mountain was home to bobsled, luge and skeleton. The Olympic Park, located about 12 miles southwest of Whistler in the Callaghan Valley, hosted cross-country skiing, ski jumping and biathlon.

The Richmond Oval, with its eye-catching wooden ceiling and breathtaking view of the North Shore Mountains, has been transformed from the Olympic long-track speedskating rink to a multisport recreation center.

More than 1,500 people have bought memberships and around 3,000 people visit the oval each month. Canada's national basketball teams played exhibition games in the building this fall.

It has hosted the world wheelchair rugby championships and is a center of excellence for Hockey Canada, Volleyball Canada and the Canadian-Chinese table tennis foundation.

The three ice sheets at UBC's Thunderbird Arena, which hosted women's hockey, are now busy with university games and community leagues.

For those who want to play outside, the 56 miles of trails at Whistler Olympic Park make it one of the largest cross-country ski facilities in North America. It attracts local skiers and has begun a marketing campaign in Europe.

Adrenaline junkies are able to get their fix at the Whistler Sliding Centre, where $130 buys two rides down a shortened skeleton course and $149 will send you rumbling down the bobsled track.

There also are plans to host high-level competitions, as Calgary did after the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Vancouver drew only one World Cup competition this winter, a bobsled and skeleton event, but a luge World Cup is planned for Whistler next year and the luge world championships are coming in 2013.

Tom Holland, director of high-performance development for Cross Country Canada, said Canada is slated for two World Cup weekends in December 2012.

Officials have talked to the Canadian Curling Association about bringing the 2013 men's world curling championships to the Richmond Oval.

"Whether that is feasible or doable or not is a question mark," said Warren Hansen, the CCA's director of event operations and media. "It could be a possibility. But a whole bunch of questions have to be answered."

Jackie Stell-Buckingham, director of events for Skate Canada, said it will be a few years before figure skating returns to the Pacific Coliseum, which was upgraded before the Games for about $19 million and also hosted short-track speedskating.

"Pre-Olympics we had a lot of events there," she said. "Now, because we are a national organization . . . we need to let the pendulum swing back a little bit."

Jean Dupre, the Canadian Olympic Committee's chief executive officer, doesn't think hosting World Cup events is the only yardstick to measure the worth of Olympic venues.

"To have a purpose doesn't mean they have to host World Cups all the time," Dupre said. "Having an impact on sport and the sport community and developing athletes in the long run is the best type of legacy we have.

"I think we have that with the legacies in Vancouver," Dupre said.