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Suggestions to move sledge hockey events surprise mayor

Whistler’s partners still committed to compact Paralympic Games, says Melamed



Mayor Ken Melamed admitted he was surprised over suggestions in Torino that some sledge hockey games be moved from Whistler to Vancouver during the 2010 Paralympics.

"Certainly the expectation in Whistler is that we host those events here," said the mayor at Tuesday’s council meeting.

"We were concerned when we heard it."

He wasn’t the only one.

Local resident Brian Buchholz was at Tuesday’s council meeting with Saturday’s Vancouver Sun story in hand, which contains suggestions from the President of Hockey Canada that the some sledge hockey events be moved to bigger venues in Vancouver to increase the profile of the sport.

In particular, Bob Nicholson told the Sun he wants the Vancouver Organizing Committee to consider moving at least the semifinals and medal rounds to Vancouver. Nicholson was not available for comment before press time on Wednesday.

Buchholz asked council for an explanation.

"I was really concerned as a citizen of Whistler (reading the story)," he said, adding that the community has spent a lot of time and money working on a design for a 2,750-seat arena in the village for the Paralympic sledge hockey events.

"It’s a shock and a bit disappointing to me."

Melamed echoed his sentiments but reiterated that all of Whistler’s Olympic partners are on board with keeping all the events in the resort. The suggestions to move games have come from Hockey Canada and some athletes he added.

"It’s a little bit disappointing to hear now, four years after the bid was developed, that the size of our arena is being questioned," said the mayor.

Part of the charm of Whistler’s bid, he added, was that all the Paralympic events were in the resort, making it the most compact Games to date – a big selling point during the bid phase.

Still, Melamed recognizes that the success of sledge hockey in Torino means Hockey Canada, which took over the sledge hockey program last year, and the athletes, are keen to raise the sport’s profile.

"Our core principle in this is to do what’s right for the athletes and for the sport and not to be selfish about it," said Whistler’s mayor.

"On the other hand I think it would be difficult for the community to go through this incredible long and extensive process and be deprived of the privilege of holding the gold medal game."

"It would be a very difficult issue for us."

No one could have predicted the success of the sledge hockey events in Torino.

The gold medal game, in which the Canadian team beat the Norwegians, was a sell out event. There were 4,100 people at the game and by all accounts there was a feeling in the stadium that it was a historic moment in sport history.

VANOC’s senior vice president of sport, Paralympic Games and venue management Cathy Priestner Allinger compared the gold medal Paralympic sledge hockey game in Torino to the gold medal men’s Olympic game in Salt Lake City, where the Canadian team also took the gold.

"It was probably one of the greatest moments I’ve experienced in sport," she said. "It sort of had it all – the feeling in the building, the energy of the spectators, the athletes and the performances were incredible, the Canadian team… (was) unbelievable."

All of this made sledge hockey one of the most talked about sports during the Paralympics.

Priestner-Allinger said there have been no formal requests to VANOC from Hockey Canada to move any events.

"There’s no request and we’re not looking into changing the situation at this point," she said.

"In our situation I think we want to do what’s best for the athletes and for the sport."

Melamed reiterated that Whistler’s partners – VANOC, the International Paralympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee – are on board with keeping all the events in Whistler.