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Olympic medal presentations may return to plaza

VANOC officials to decide Wednesday on fate of medal awards



Whistler municipal staff has been in discussions with Olympic officials for close to a month with a view to bringing the nightly medal celebrations back to the village.

Olympic organizers had moved the awarding of the medals from a central purpose-built plaza in the village to the sport venues three months ago to save millions on security and site preparation.

But a Whistler official has confirmed that the nightly medal ceremonies are back on the table.

"I think all of the discussions are about finding that wonderful balance between what works for all the partners and stakeholders and what is financially responsible," said John Rae, Manager of Strategic Alliances for the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

"I have been in discussion with (Vancouver organizing Committee for the 2010 Games) and by extension the International Olympic Committee since late February. We are ready and willing to accommodate the medals ceremony, or not, and we defer to the IOC and VANOC on that decision."
It is likely a decision will be made later this week, at the end of a visit by the IOC's Vancouver Coordination Commission.

Whistler was taken by surprise in December when VANOC said the medals presentations in the village were being cut to save money, and has continued to lobby to keep them.

The International Olympic Committee also appears to be in favour of the nightly medals ceremonies being reinstated.

Construction of Celebration Plaza is slated to cost about $13.4 million, with $5 million coming from Canadian Heritage, approximately $3 million from VANOC, and up to $6.2 million from the municipality. Construction is scheduled for completion in September.

If the medals are handed out nightly at Celebration Plaza Olympic organizers need to have expensive security arrangements in place, including fencing and mag and bag. There also needs to be services and technology in place for the official broadcast media.

By moving the medals to the sport venues it was estimated that VANOC would save more than $5 million. It also opened up the plaza, freeing it from heavy security.

But the concern locally was that it would also reduce the number of people visiting the village.

Celebration Plaza will also be the site of the Whistler Olympic cauldron and the closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games. Following the Games it will be a public open space surrounded by institutional and commercial buildings. There will also be a large children's play area, tiered seating, a large open grassy area and spaces to sell local art and cuisine.