Venue completion date holds key to athletes’ success 

Site tour on two Whistler Olympic competition facilities reveals scope of work

World champion skeleton athlete Duff Gibson is convinced Canada’s Olympic medal count will be higher in 2010 than in years past.

That was his prediction standing on the site of Whistler’s future bobsled/luge/skeleton track on the side of Blackcomb Mountain last Friday morning. Even though it was just a pile of dirt amid construction machinery, the potential of what it will become was on the minds of some on site, particularly Gibson who has hurtled down his share of icy tracks around the world.

"Canada will win more medals because we have access to this facility a few years in advance," Gibson said with confidence. "Having this facility two years in advance makes a huge difference."

That being said, if Canada is the team to beat in the 2010 Olympics, the local venues must be completed well in advance of the Games.

Gibson’s comments come during a media site tour of two of Whistler’s competition venues, namely the Whistler Sliding Centre and the Whistler Nordic Centre. Combined they will host seven Olympic events – the luge, skeleton and bobsleigh events on the former and, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, Nordic combined and biathlon on the latter. The venues will also host Paralympic events as well.

While the site tour mainly revealed very preliminary construction zones, with more dirt than anything else, they also revealed the importance of getting a tremendous amount of work done in the next few years.

Not only is that important in terms of coming in on budget for the two facilities, which will cost than $150 million collectively, it’s also crucial for Canada’s athletes that they have time to practice on them, to give them that critical home field advantage.

Gibson used the Torino Olympics, fast approaching in February, to illustrate his point. There, Gibson like most other athletes around the world will have had the chance to fly down the Italian track about 30 to 40 times before he goes for Olympic gold. The Italians, he said, will have 300 to 400 runs over them by comparison, giving them a distinct advantage.

It’s a factor that cannot be downplayed said VANOC CEO John Furlong.

"You heard the athletes talking about how disadvantaged they are when they travel to international arenas to compete," he said. "They have to have the advantage (in 2010). It’s expected that they be given the advantage, that they get to train at home and then the world comes to take Canada on and we want them to be ready."

The impression on Friday is that the work is already well underway.

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