COC pleased with progress on Whistler venues 

National Olympic committee trying to secure best legacy possible from 2010 Games

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So far Whistler’s Olympic venues are not much to look at – a few clearcuts in the forest connected by dirt roads.

Still, the Canadian Olympic Committee decided to pay the venues an official visit this week to kick off its own logistical planning for 2010, while helping VANOC representatives in Vancouver and Whistler prepare for delegations from over a hundred National Olympic Committees that will visit in 2007 and 2008.

"Other national Olympic committees are going to go through this process a couple of years before the Games, and we need to be ready so athletes and officials go home talking about what a great experience it was and what a great job VANOC is doing," COC chief executive officer Chris Rudge said Monday after touring venue sites in Whistler.

While things are still in the early stages, Rudge says the COC is happy with the progress they’ve seen.

"Obviously there’s not a lot of point in seeing everything on the ground… but I’m really impressed with the way that VANOC has made the shift from organizing committee to hosts at the venues. In the end we want people to come away and say that not only were the Games great, but the organizing committee deserves a gold medal for helping the COC to prepare," said Rudge. "I’m also impressed with the knowledge of the people at each venue, there’s a site specialist everywhere you go."

The COC is particularly happy with the fact that construction of most venues is on or ahead of schedule, which means athletes will have two to three years of training at those venues prior to 2010.

In comparison, the upcoming Games in Torino, Italy have been criticized for being behind schedule. Some of the venues are still under construction, which in turn has made it difficult for visiting Olympic Committees and athletes to plan for the Games in February.

Whistler and Vancouver won’t have that problem, said Rudge.

While the COC is working with VANOC on the Games, the COC also represents Canadian winter sports organizations.

The ongoing debate over the future of ski jumping facilities in Canada – the Calgary Olympic Development Committee has applied to close the jumping centre in Calgary while VANOC has announced it would only build temporary competition jumps in the Callaghan Valley for 2010 – is continuing.

Rudge said it was unfortunate, but Canada cannot fund all sports equally and still expect to be competitive.

"A big concern we have as the COC is what is the legacy of these Games for high performance sport – not just for the physical assets, but how profitable the Games are going to be because the profits will go back into sport… and that results in more participation in sports. The broader the base of the pyramid, the higher the peak," said Rudge.

"Now we’re not a decision maker, but we are involved in the discussions. We’ve made some tough decisions in the COC recently that not all funds can be distributed equally to sports… but we would like to see funding for those sports that we haven’t had a lot of success."

Ski jumping is a sensitive issue because Canada wants to put athletes with a chance of winning in every sport in the 2010 Games, including ski jumping and Nordic combined. If the Calgary jumps close and VANOC does not build a training centre or summer training facility to accompany the Whistler jumps, that will be difficult.

Rudge would like to see the money that would be spent on capital and operating costs to keep the Calgary or Whistler jumps open go back to the athletes and coaches to fund training in other countries. He pointed out that the Canadian freestyle team has been successfully training in Lake Placid for years.

"There’s not a large number of athletes using the jumps in Canada, so it may make better sense to use that (facility) money to send them somewhere they can train alongside the best in the world," said Rudge.

Another controversy in Canadian sport was the COC’s 2004 decision to only send athletes ranked in the top-12 in the world, or who had a strong chance of winning a medal, to the Summer Games in Athens.

The decision was made in order to better concentrate funding on athletes that were contenders, rather than sending everyone who met reduced qualifying standards in various sports. In previous years the COC’s standard was top-16, but with numerous exceptions for athletes who showed potential.

While that decision has been held up as one of the reasons Canada did so poorly in 2004, Rudge stands by the COC decision because of the limited funds available, and the fact that he believes it is damaging an athlete’s confidence to send them to a Games when they have virtually no chance of winning a medal.

However, with 2010 on the horizon, the COC has no plans to extend the top-12 standard to the Winter Games.

"It’s understood that the standard for Torinto would be opened up… because we have a home Games in Canada and Canadians want to see our national athletes in every event," said Rudge. "If the athletes meet the international federation standards, and the standard of our national sports organizations, then they will go to the Games in Torino and in 2010."

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