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Soaring into the future



This week we learned that the ski jump venue at Whistler Olympic Park has been named a National Training Centre.

The announcement wasn't made with a great deal of fanfare and yet it is remarkable in many ways.

Whistler has long held that the Olympic Park is one of its best 2010 legacies. A spectacular venue, it has grown the number of people coming to enjoy Nordic pursuits in Whistler, and quietly the Sea to Sky corridor has embraced the sports it offers growing the participation from youth on up.

During the 2010 Winter Olympic Games it was a bustling place — buses were everywhere, spectators lined up for food, drinks, to see the athletes, for transportation, to see the ice sculptures — you name it there was a line-up for it.

Leading up to the Games the media reported frequently on the rising cost of the venue.

In the Bid Book, Whistler Olympic Park was slated to cost $102 million, but according to the Vancouver Organizing Committee's final financial report (http://www.2010legaciesnow.com/vanoc_final_financial/) the venue came in at $122.4 million.

Of that, according to Whistler Sport Legacies, which is responsible for the operation of the venue, $30 million was spent on the ski jumps — that price tag includes the jumps, the chair lift, the refrigeration plant, and the snowmaking system.

When the jumps were first proposed and built there was an assumption that they would become part of the competition and training circuit — though they were frequently called out as a "white elephant" Games venue in the media.

In other words the 140- and 106-metre jumps would be permanent structures after the Games. After all, who would spend $30 million on a sporting structure and then tear it down?

One of the questions most frequently dodged at the time by Olympic officials was what the real fate of those jumps would be. It soon became apparent, as a downward spiralling economy hit Canada that they would be "temporary," though no one really knew what that meant. It was assumed that they would be dismantled after the Games.

Then during a venue update in January 2010 it was revealed that a deal was in the works to keep the jumps open on a seasonal basis — basically, they would operate for one month a year. I remember the information just slipping out as dozens of reporters were gathered in a tent at the venue for the briefing.

At the forefront of the fight at the time was Brent Morrice, chairman of Ski Jumping Canada.

"(Dismantling the jumps) never made sense to us," he said back then. "We have been fighting this since Day 1."

Well it looks as if the battle is on its way to being won.

"The ski jump facilities in the Callaghan Valley are among the best in the world and the perfect place for our athletes to hone their skills and challenge the world's best," said Curtis Lyon, chairman and high Performance director of Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Canada this week in announcing the training centre designation.

"We see the venue as integral part of the sport in this country and one of the keys to our success."

This week, from Jan. 27 until Feb. 1, the national ski jumping team is training at WOP for its final camp before heading to Sochi — the first Olympics to include female jumpers.

You may recall the vocal and bitter battle Canadian women ski jumpers fought to have their sport included in the 2010 Games — but it was not to be.

Keeping the jumps operational is not easy or cheap. The refrigeration unit must be maintained, the stairs that run up and down the side of the jumps must be cleared for events, and there needs to be avalanche control and snow management on the side hills. The jumps also need a winch cat, left behind by Olympic organizers to groom the slopes.

But the initial investment has been made and the battle will continue to keep the jumps alive.

Perhaps Sochi-bound ski jumper Matthew Rowley sums up why they should continue to be operational.

"Honest to God, these are my favourite facilities," he told Pique this week.

"(They're) absolutely world class, brand new and just the ideal hills to be training on.

"Coming out here is literally a breath of fresh air.

"For all these years after the (Vancouver) Olympics, we've just been wishing we could come here.

"I think we're going to take full advantage of this opportunity."


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