Less than three years after it was built for the 2010 Olympics, Whistler's sliding track is getting an estimated $1.7 million upgrade.
The order to do the upgrade, prompted by the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on the opening day of the Olympics, was handed down by the international luge federation FIL — Fédération Internationale de Luge de Course — as a requirement for Whistler to host the luge 2013 World Championships in February, and any future international competitions.
But it's Canadian taxpayers footing the bill.
It's a large-scale, highly technical project that includes a new start ramp leading into a lower portion of the track, as well as a new two-storey start house, effectively cutting off the top of the track as part of the field of play for luge forever.
While the edict comes from the federation's head offices in Germany, the money to pay for the updates is coming to Whistler Sport Legacies (WSL) from a "transition fund" set up by Vancouver's Olympic Organizing Committee — VANOC.
When asked why the legacies society, which has been unable to make ends meet since it took over the local venues more than two years ago, was paying for the upgrade when FIL signed off on the original track design and then requested the new starts post-Games and post-accident, WSL president and CEO Keith Bennett paused to consider.
"That's an interesting question," he said, standing below the new start. "I mean it's our country, our track."
It is not clear in WSL's 2011 audited financial statements just how much money was part of that VANOC transition fund, or how much of it has been spent on the venues to date by the WSL. VANOC still exists in a limited role.
"I think you have to look at this from a number of perspectives," Bennett went on to say. "There are a lot of tracks in the world... there's more tracks than there are world cups and what's important for our Canadian athletes is the opportunity to train and compete at home.
"Having home-field advantage, you saw what that did in the Games for someone like (gold medal skeleton athlete) Jon Montgomery. Amazing results and I think Whistler just latched on to that, 'this is ours.' The opportunity to have a track where you can host an international competition and a world cup or world championships, like I say, it's a game-changer. They have the chance to train here. It's their field. It's their field of play. Their track. They have home-field advantage here so this is huge. And the fact that this is a fast track really sets the athletes up for competing internationally."
The other catch of course is the WSL funding, which flows in part from the Games Operating Trust — a $110 million trust set up jointly by the federal and provincial governments to fund the legacy venues in the long run. Last year WSL received $2.69 million from the trust fund, which paid for a portion of its $7.5 million in operating costs.
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