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On Time and Under Budget: A Winter Olympics Success Story

March 16, 1987|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

CALGARY, Alberta — When Calgary won the bid in 1981 from the International Olympic Committee for the 1988 Winter Games, the city had virtually no winter sports facilities, not even an adequate arena for the National Hockey League's Flames.

Less than one year before the Games begin, Calgary not only has one of the NHL's finest arenas, it also has Canada's first luge and bobsled tracks, four ski jump towers and soon will have the world's only 400-meter indoor speedskating oval.

The cost for the Olympic facilities, also including alpine and Nordic ski areas in the Rockies west of Calgary, was $250 million and was shared by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Calgary. (All figures in this story are in Canadian dollars. The exchange rate is approximately $1.33 Canadian to $1 U.S.).

All but one of the facilities have been completed on time and under budget.

"This is the real story of the Games," said Frank King, chairman of the organizing committee, Olympiques Calgary Olympics (OCO '88).

Olympic Saddledome--Built primarily to fulfill a promise to the Flames, the downtown arena opened in 1983.

All of the figure skating finals and most of the ice hockey tournament, including medal games, will be in the Saddledome.

Constructed with funding from Alberta, Calgary, the Canadian government and OCO '88, this is the only facility that went over budget.

Completed 10 months late, it cost $97.3 million, about $15 million more than anticipated.

Uniquely designed to conserve energy and to reflect Calgary's western heritage, the world's largest concrete suspended roof dips in the middle like a saddle.

Because of the demand for tickets, OCO '88, the city and the Saddledome Foundation will pay $1.5 million to have another 2,600 seats added to the 17,000-seat arena. None of the seats is more than 200 feet from center ice.

Olympic Oval--The only facility for competition still under construction, the multi-purpose arena on the University of Calgary campus is scheduled to open in April.

Roughly the length of two football fields--Canadian, not American--it has the world's first fully-enclosed 400-meter speedskating oval.

The skaters will be protected from the elements, either the severe cold that chills even the heartiest Calgarians in February or the Chinook winds that can cause temperatures to rise radically within a few hours. The oval, which seats 4,000, was built by the Canadian government for $38.9 million.

Canada Olympic Park--Canada's foremost ski jumper, Horst Bulau, was the first to descend from the 90-meter hill in an exhibition last November.

Bulau landed in the bowl, but he didn't have enough room in the ski-out area to stop. His momentum carried him into a gravel pit, where he grazed his leg and ruined his skis.

Perhaps understandably, he refused a few days later when asked to become the first to jump from the 70-meter tower at the Olympic Park's opening ceremony.

Some Canadian sports officials say Bulau sabotaged his jump to dramatize his belief that the Olympic Park is inferior to the country's only other jump facility, Thunder Bay. Bulau is from Thunder Bay.

Nevertheless, the Olympic Park ski-out area, shared by the 70 and 90-meter jumps, has been expanded.

Jumpers, however, still anticipate that the competition could be hazardous because of the unpredictable winds, which blow up to 37 miles per hour.

After conducting tests last February, government experts concluded that safe jumps would have been possible only 66.7% of the time from the 90-meter hill.

Even if wind screens are constructed at a cost of $300,000, delays in the competition are anticipated.

The wind also plays havoc with the Olympic Park luge and bobsled tracks, the first ever in Canada.

It is particularly tough sledding when there is no snow on the ground, as has been the case for most of this winter. Compared to an average of eight inches of snow in January, Calgary had only 1 1/2 inches in the first two months of this year. Dust often is blown onto the track, melting the ice.

Designed by East Germans and given high marks by most world-class athletes who have trained on it, the track otherwise has been prepared for bad weather, which, in the Winter Games, means warm weather.

The track contains 62 miles of refrigeration pipe. It can withstand heat up to 68 degrees.

The Olympic Park cost the Canadian government $60 million, including land purchase.

From the 90-meter tower, the highest point in Calgary, competitors will have a view of the downtown skyline, which is 15 minutes away by car on the Trans-Canada Highway.

The bowl is at the center of an amphitheater, which can hold 50,000 spectators and eventually will be used for rock concerts.

Nakiska at Mt. Allan--Even before there was an OCO '88, choosing a site for the alpine skiing--the men's and women's downhill, slalom and giant slalom competitions--has been controversial.

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