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Richmond's Olympic Coup

By Mike Keenan
  Richmond Olympic Oval A 2010 Olympic quiz: what facility is comprised of 5,600,000 kilograms of steel rebar, 1,100,00 cubic feet of concrete, 1,000,000 board feet pine lumber, 170,000 cubic metres of sand, 8,000 seats, 2,200 stone columns, and a 6.5 acre roof that can fit four airliners inside, side by side?
     It's the newly-constructed Richmond Oval, and I gawk, first at the incredible scope of the huge undertaking bathed in natural light from a large glassed north wall and secondly, the incredible curved roof above me, constructed with light-coloured pine, salvaged from the beetle infestation that plagued British Columbia's trees. Stunning and clever!
     After Vancouver-Whistler's winning bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, Richmond politicians acted quickly. A rapidly-growing city, spread over 17 islands on the Pacific Coast in the mouth of the Fraser River, it enjoys a breathtaking mountain backdrop and is where international athletes will arrive at Vancouver International Airport.
     It's appropriate that an Olympic venue be established here, for Statscan reported in 2007 that Richmond residents enjoy the greatest life expectancy in Canada, with the lowest smoking and obesity rates in the country.
     In July, 2004, Richmond announced it would take a lead role and develop the Long Track Speed Skating Venue for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The vision was to create a unique facility for wellness and sports excellence, a major investment in the overall health and well-being of its diverse community.
     I watch public skating while young people work out on exercise machines stationed along the south side of the Oval, and later, I observe speed skating trials, impressed by the electronic machinery employed to record and analyze each skater.
     The Oval is a 512,000 square foot, multi-use facility, featuring community programming, sports medicine and sciences, a major fitness centre and community activity areas. Surrounding the Oval is the site of a major waterfront neighbourhood incorporating a park and a plaza, with residential, commercial and public amenities. The project evolves in three stages: pre-games, games-time, and legacy or post-games.
     During the Olympics, the Oval hosts 12 Long Distance Speed Skating medal events and then begins its legacy as an important permanent fixture serving the local, national and international community as a one-of-a-kind centre for health, wellness, and sports excellence.

Exercise room  Exercise stations  Inside the oval  North side opposite Fraser River  Outdoor indigenous artwork

     In the centre area, I watch people playing badminton. There are four basketball courts, specialized fitness studios for rowing and spinning and targeted resistance programs designed to develop muscles specific to real-life activities. Amazing! A video wall in the rowing and spinning studio simulates real outdoor fitness adventures, such as participating in the Tour de France. You ride a bike while the screen depicts an actual course, allowing you to train on hills and myriad other terrain, thus simulating the outdoor experience. Incredible!
     VANOC takes control of the 400 m. track for the 17-day duration of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, February 12-28. 36 medals are awarded here and the Oval also features first-class support areas for athletes, coaches, trainers, officials and volunteers, as well as extensive accommodations for hundreds of worldwide media broadcasts. The Oval is also the location of the official Olympic anti-doping lab.

Oval at night courtesy Richmond Tourism  Signage  Speed Skater  Water collection via artwork  Zamboni in action

     The city astutely focused on the venue's potential to create a legacy of community involvement and sports excellence for years beyond the Olympics. At 32,000 square meters, the Oval far exceeds the standard size requirements for an Olympic speed skating venue. After the Winter Games, it expands to its permanent full-use model with the capability of hosting both summer and winter sports simultaneously. In March, 2010, the Oval will be transformed into a multi-use facility featuring ice, court and track. Indoor track, badminton, volleyball, basketball, combative and wheelchair sports, indoor soccer, gymnastics and special events are just some examples of the Oval's many uses. It will also become a centre of high performance sport competitions, training, testing, rehabilitation and administration.
     Amenities include: a 9,700 square foot athletic development centre; a 16,000 square foot sports science and research testing facility; a sport rehabilitation and medicine area; an indoor paddling centre; a fitness studio for group exercise; a rowing and cycling studio; and a community fitness facility. Prior to the games, residents were working out here on state of the art equipment for $1 per day. Retail and commercial leasing space will be available, as well as multi-purpose community meeting spaces. A number of Canadian national sports teams are expected to make the Oval their international training centre and it will also be the home of leading sport development agencies.
     Before site clearing, a wildlife biologist and arborist assessed the site. As many trees as possible were preserved, particularly along the river and canal. The City transplanted 36 trees, including trees of historical significance to local parks and other city property, in addition to meeting or exceeding their goal of planting at least two trees for every one removed. The landscaping plan upholds sustainability standards by maximizing use of native vegetation and minimizing potential for introduction of invasive species.
     The structure qualifies for silver certification on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Scale (LEED®). Typically used to evaluate residential and office buildings, the scale was developed in the United States as a method for recognizing buildings for their efficient use of energy and other resources, minimization of waste, and quality of indoor environment. An ambitious endeavor for a building of this size, but it will result in long term operational cost savings, both financial and environmental.
     One impressive example of the sustainability features is the refrigeration system. Heat energy removed from the ice creation process will be used in other areas of the building. Even the Zamboni, I notice, is energy-efficient, run by electric power.
     The 100 m by 200 m roof, composed of salvaged pine beetle wood, is designed to collect and funnel rainwater for toilet pressure supplementation as well as landscape irrigation.
     Richmond has committed to nurturing the marshlands and estuary in the vicinity of the Oval and construction of interpretive trails along the waterfront.
     Massive public art is in progress outside the Oval, the largest investment in the city's history. On the north side of the Oval, Riverside Plaza will feature huge concrete buttresses decorated with Coast Salish themed sculptures of salmon, herons, and the Fraser River by internationally acclaimed Musqueam artist, Susan Point. The sculptures will enhance the water collecting features of the Oval's roof design.
     A bridge inspired by the Chinese Dragon Dance will meander through shallow ponds on the eastern side of the Oval in Water Sky Gardens, one of the most ambitious public art projects in Richmond's history. The Gardens will be the home of two ephemeral lantern sculptures, 60 feet in diameter and 70 feet tall. The lanterns will evoke the spirit of the area's fishing culture as their diaphanous nets change shape in the wind.
     Buster Simpson's towering 8.95 meter tall skate blade sculptures will border the new vehicular bridge crossing Hollybridge Canal on the southeast region of the Oval. The blades will be composed of laminated reflective glass and holographic film and will be illuminated at night with embedded LED lights.
     The bottom line: Richmond has cleverly employed the Olympic Games and facility development to its full advantage, staging the biggest coup of the entire Games!

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits:
Mike Keenan
Richmond Tourism

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