A top international Olympic official who once voiced concerns over the distance between 2010 Olympic venues in Vancouver and Whistler is no longer worried.
“I do not think that is the case anymore,” said the International Olympic Committee’s Gerhard Heiberg this week.
“So, far, yes — but not too far.”
Heiberg was head of the IOC’s evaluation committee that assessed the candidate cities for the 2010 Winter Olympics. During a March 2003 inspection of sites proposed by the Vancouver bid committee Heiberg said the Whistler venues were “too far from Vancouver. You need to shorten the time if possible.”
The Norwegian, who was also chair of the 1994 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Lillehammer, visited Whistler and Vancouver this week to check on how the highway and venue construction was progressing.
“I (wanted to) see whether (The Vancouver Organizing Committee) had kept all the promises (given) during the bid,” said Heiberg, who admitted he had been asked about his highway comments thousands of times.
The $600 million upgrade of the Sea to Sky Highway passed the half-way mark this summer and is on schedule for a fall 2009 completion.
Heiberg said he was especially worried about the Nordic venue in the Callaghan Valley, about 14 kilometres south of Whistler Village. Before the Nordic centre was built the valley was used primarily by backcountry recreationalists. It is claimed as traditional territory by both the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations.
“There was absolutely nothing there and I was thinking can this be possible,” Heiberg said of the bid-phase plans for the 2010 Games.
“I had some meetings with the First Nations at the time and they were opposed to this and they told me this was impossible and they told me that we should not do anything in the Callaghan Valley.”
Today a deal is in place with the First Nations, the ski jumps are assembled, the Nordic competition trails will be open to the public this winter, the first test events will be held in January, and the Nordic centre incorporates several environmental programs.
“I was there and I was really impressed and I feel you have done an incredibly good job,” said Heiberg following Monday’s site visit to the venue.
Heiberg said the IOC was also watching VANOC’s progress on getting sponsor commitments after setting ambitious goals.
“When I saw the budget I thought it was too high a level,” he said. “But after having watched what is happening and talking to the people involved I feel VANOC may even exceed the figures in the budget.”
VANOC said it is on target to reach its sponsorship revenue goals for 2007. Overall, VANOC has secured commitments for more than $630 million of its $760 million domestic sponsorship target.
VANOC CEO John Furlong accompanied Heiberg on his Whistler venue tour hoping to dispel the idea that the organization couldn’t keep its promises.
“I think for (Heiberg) it is a bit of validation,” said Furlong. “I think that he thought that we had it in us and now he is seeing it all come to pass.
“We always felt that in our country if you break a promise you can’t get away with it. It may be OK in some places in the world but it is not OK here.”
Heiberg also visited the Vancouver venues this week.