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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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July 11, 2008 11:33 AM

Here's your publicly financed arena: Check out the new Richmond Oval

Posted by Ron Judd

Richmond Oval 1.jpgRichmond Oval 2.jpgRichmond Oval 6.jpg

Non-editor's note: This is the first of an occasional series of glimpses at 2010 Olympic venues. Look for more when we get around to it.

Whoa.

That's your first reaction when you drive up the Richmond Oval, the new speedskating (long-track) venue for the Vancouver 2010 Games.

It's immense. Looks like you could park three or four 747s in there, wing to wing. Actually, you could, according to the stats sheet. The thing is 361,281 square feet. Its roof is 6.5 acres. It seats 6,832 lucky spectators and houses, of course, one 400-meter ice track, for the Games -- and lots more, after them (read on).

The $178 million building, on the banks of the Fraser River in Richmond, likely will become the signature venue for the Vancouver Games simply by nature of its enormity -- and its proximity to Vancouver Intergalactic Airport, which sits right across the river. Everyone flying into YVR is going to see this baby. And it's an impressive sight.

The roof, shaped in the general form of a wave, is supported by massive beams of B.C. timber -- a purposeful attempt to showcase that fine (dwindling) building material to the world. Nice stroke of PRism, that. But not one without its problems: Some of the wood apparently wasn't dried properly, and surrounding insulation had to be replaced because of fungus that formed inside the structure. That was a construction hiccup of $2 million and change.

The roof itself is quite the engineering feat: Its 15 "glulam" support beams are almost 100 meters (328 feet) long. The roof, with arched trusses and rafters to give it a rippled appearance, utilizes a million board feet of B.C. lumber, primarily milled in Williams Lake, and mostly harvested from trees killed by pine beetles, the Games green-thinking organizers are quick to point out (another unadvertised benefit of global warming!)

It looks like construction crews will deliver this monster venue on schedule, this fall, in time for speedskating test events in the single winter remaining leading up to the Games of February, 2010.

We're anxious to see how the ice performs here. Building managers of the last major North American structure of this size, the oval in Kearns, Utah, built for the 2002 Games, made a lot of the fact that it contained "the World's Fastest Ice," because the building sits at 4,500 feet in elevation. And in fact it has proved to be that, with many world records set there.

Does that mean that the Richmond Oval, the first such facility to sit essentially at sea level, will be the world's slowest ice? Only time will tell.

Oval_Main_Activity_Area_-_2010_Games16689.jpg

Meantime, if you want to see the building for yourself, it's easy to find. The Oval sits on River Road, between the No. 2 Road and Dinsmore bridges, just north of downtown Richmond. It's so large, you can also see it from many high places in the area, including several bridges leading into and out of Vancouver.

It's one of only two Vancouver competition venues still under construction. (A non-competition venue, the massive, glassy, waterfront exhibition centre near Canada Place, which will serve as the International Broadcast Centre for the Games, is still being finished up, as well.)

Organizers, with a $580 million budget, pledged to bring all the sport venues online by this fall, to allow a full winter's testing before the Games. They appear to be meeting that goal. The impressive Thunderbird Winter Sports Centre, a remodeled hockey rink on the University of British Columbia campus on the city's west side, opened its doors on Monday. That building will stage most of the early rounds of ice hockey (more on this soon.)

That leaves only the Oval and the curling venue, which sits next to Nat Bailey Stadium, home of the Vancouver Candians (a Class-A Northwest League affiliate of the Oakland A's) adjacent to Queen Elizabeth Park, still under construction. With just a cursory look, it appears Vancouver will boast facilities on par with, and in many ways superior to, many that we've seen at other recent, successful Winter Games.

Note: That's assuming, of course, they roll up their sleeves and spiff up the outdated B.C. Place domed stadium, home of the opening and closing ceremonies, AND give some kind of an external makeover to the figure-skating venue, Pacific Coliseum, which at present still looks distinctively like a water-storage tank. Bottom line: So far, so good for VANOC.

Since you asked: After the Games, the Richmond Oval will be a community "sports and wellness" center, and all that space will be put to good use. In fact, this is one Olympic venue that's likely to shine more brightly after the Games than druing them. The impressive future sports fieldhouse will be divided into three areas, housing two Olympic-sized ice rinks, a massive hardwood floor capable of hosting eight (!) multiple court sports, such as basketball games, simultaneously, a rubberized turf field for soccer and other sports, a walking track, a 320-meter walking track and a 200-meter indoor running track. All at once. And, of course, the space can be reconfigured for speedskating, when called for.

Parking? Plenty, all underground. The entire lower floor is parking garage.

Oval_Main_Activity_Level_-_Post_Games16690.jpg

The building also will be home to various community health programs, sports medicine training, a fitness center, retail space and other amenities. It will even have a paddling center, with ergo machines and current-equipped pools. In other words: Massive amounts of dry, indoor space for all the stuff you don't want to do outside in a soggy Vancouver winter.

Some of you may recall an earlier plan to build a speedskating oval at Simon Fraser University. That one went by-by when construction estimates kept increasing, and VANOC didn't want to foot the entire, escalating bill. Richmond stepped in with a bigger, more expensive package. VANOC's contribution was capped, and the remaining $118 million or so came from casino revenues, developer fees for adjacent projects along the city's riverfront, and other non-tax sources.

Here's an idea: How about scooping up the various taxes proposed for a new arena for lazy, rich NBA players on a non-existing Seattle basketball team and use them to build something useful, like this, at Seattle Center instead? It's a bargain at half the price, and something ordinary taxpayers might actually use.

More data on the Richmond Oval can be found on the city of Richmond's Web site.

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Construction photos: Ron Judd/Seattle Times
Conceptual drawings: City of Richmond, B.C.

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Blogroll and links

www.olympic.org: The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information.
www.nbcolympics.com: Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog
www.usolympicteam.com: U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site.
www.aroundtherings.com: Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription).
www.wcsn.com: News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions.
www.beijing2008.com: Beijing Organizing Committee Web site.
www.vancouver2010.com: Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site.
www.london2012.com: London 2012 Summer Games site.
www.sochi2014.com: Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site.
www.chicago2016.org: Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
Other WCSN Olympic athlete blogs.