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Heiberg, King lend advice to VANOC

Board gathers in Whistler for ‘crash course’ on hosting Olympics

Members of the Vancouver Organizing Committee board met for their first team retreat in Whistler recently.

"This is the first opportunity that we have been able to have this kind of a get together," said Jack Poole, chairman of VANOC.

"It is important for a group like this that meets every six weeks or so to get away from their normal distractions and focus on communicating with each other and on our goals."

Two keynote speakers were brought in for the three-day event, Gerhard Heiberg, International Olympic Committee executive board member and head of the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, and Frank King who headed up the 1988 Calgary Games.

Poole said both offered a "crash course" on hosting an Olympics to the 18 board members who were able to attend last weekend’s meetings at the Westin Resort and Spa in Whistler.

Missing were Canadian Olympic Committee members Dick Pound and Paul Henderson.

The board has representation on it from the federal government, the provincial government, Vancouver, Whistler, the COC, the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations.

While in Whistler the group toured the area by helicopter, checking out the site of the Whistler Nordic Centre in the Callaghan and the sliding centre on Blackcomb Mountain. They also had lunch at the top of Whistler Mountain.

Poole said the group had a chance to think collectively about how the board would deal with tough decisions when the pressure was on.

"As we go forward clearly we are going to make decisions that in hindsight will look like mistakes," he said.

"No organization can avoid that. I think the moves we have made up until now have been very, very positive but going forward we know there are going to be some difficult decisions and they won’t be seen by everybody as the right way to do it.

"The board will have to make those hard decisions and act in the best interest of all the stakeholders so (part of having this retreat) is learning how to do that and have expectations that are reasonable and to act always with integrity."

Some of the lessons learned about tough decisions at the retreat are already front and centre for the board. Just this week VANOC announced a partnership with Bell worth $200 million. Obviously that was not a popular decision with Telus and its supporters. The local telecommunications company spent up to $4 million supporting the bid for the 2010 Games.

And recently, VANOC chose to move the speed skating oval to Richmond from its previous location at Simon Fraser University, a decision that left the educational institution and local mayors crying foul.

Another challenging area will be financing the venues on budget. Poole is counting on higher-than-predicted revenues and creative venue planning to offset the rising cost of construction.

"Should there be an overrun then there is likely to be an overrun in revenues as well," said Poole.

"That is the balancing act, it is cash in and cash out."

The board estimates that it has already saved $10 million by moving the speed-skating oval to Richmond from SFU and the International Broadcast Centre from Richmond to downtown Vancouver.

And broadcast revenues are expected to be significantly higher than estimated in the bid book – as long as the International Olympic Committee keeps to its stated revenue-sharing formula. With record deals by NBC – it paid $2.2 billion US for the 2010 and 2012 Games – and the European Broadcasting Union, VANOC’s slice of the revenue pie is likely to be quite lucrative.

During his visit to Whistler Heiberg said the Vancouver Organizing Committee was on track with plans for the $2-billion 2010 Winter Games.

"You are doing very well," he said as he surveyed a Whistler golf driving range set to be transformed into a celebration and medals plaza in 2010.

"Your mentality, your attitude in Canada is the right one. You are following your plans so you don't end up having to do everything in the last couple of months, then it costs too much."

He also urged the board at the retreat to take advantage of the vast knowledge the IOC has to offer in hosting the Olympics.

Heiberg, who headed up the IOC's evaluation team that recommended Vancouver be awarded the 2010 Games, also told the board that getting Canadians enthusiastic about the Games was crucial if the country wanted to project a winning image to the world.

"I think what made our Olympics great was the enthusiasm of the Norwegian people and I think this is also what is necessary here," he said.