Medals presentations may still return to plaza 

VANOC still reviewing options, other ways to save money

Whistler municipal staff has been in discussions with Olympic officials for close to a month with a view to bringing back the nightly medal celebrations to the village.

It was hoped that a decision would be reached this week as part of the talks the International Olympic Committee's 2010 Coordination Commission (Co Com) was having with Vancouver Olympic organizers (VANOC).

But, said VANOC CEO John Furlong at a press conference Wednesday: "We are still reviewing the possibility of having medals presented in the Whistler Olympic Celebration Plaza. The discussions are on going and I hope we will be in a position to make a decision shortly.

"This involves the IOC, VANOC and Whistler and we have had very good meetings, thoroughly progressive meetings, and we hope to have a solution, a way forward soon."

Asked if the IOC felt the medals should be given out at Celebration Plaza or at sport venues, IOC Olympic Games executive director Gilbert Felli said: "It is a matter of discussion together.

"We have a discussion with athletes also on this issue. Athletes say they recognize that in past Games it was good to have medal celebrations. We understand the different constraints here in Whistler and... we are working together."

VANOC had moved the awarding of the medals from a central purpose built plaza in the village to the sport venues three months ago to save millions on security and venue preparation.

But a Whistler official has confirmed that the nightly medal ceremonies are back on the table.

"I think all of the discussions are about finding that wonderful balance between what works for all the partners and stakeholders and what is finically responsible," said John Rae, Manager of Strategic Alliances for the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

"I have been in discussion with (VANOC) and by extension the International Olympic Committee since late February. We are ready and wiling to accommodate the medals ceremony, or not, and we defer to the IOC and VANOC on that decision."

Whistler was taken by surprise when VANOC said the medals ceremonies were being cut to save money and has continued to lobby to keep them.
The International Olympic Committee also appears to be in favour of the nightly medals presentations being reinstated.

Whistler is the first Mountain Host venue to be allowed to host medals ceremonies at a Winter Olympics.

The programming budget for the multiple village celebration sites and Celebration Plaza is still being worked on, though it is expected to be in the millions.

There was considerable local controversy about the construction of the Plaza, which saw the clearing of nearly four acres of woodland.

Construction of Celebration Plaza is slated to cost about $13.4 million, with $5 million coming from Canadian Heritage, approximately $3 million from VANOC, and up to $6.2 million from the municipality. Construction is scheduled for completion in September.

If the medals are handed out nightly at Celebration Plaza Olympic organizers need to have expensive security arrangements in place including fencing and mag and bag. There also needs to be costly technology in place for the official broadcast media.

By moving the medals to the sport venues it was estimated that VANOC would save more than $5 million. It also opened up the plaza freeing it from heavy security.

But the concern locally was that it would also reduce the number of people visiting the village.

Celebration Plaza will also be the site of the Whistler Olympic cauldron and the closing ceremonies of the Paralympic Games. Following the Games it will be a public open space surrounded by institutional and commercial buildings. There will also be a large children's play area, tiered seating, a large open grassy area and spaces to sell local art and cuisine.

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