By Bruce Constantineau, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER — Ask some typical Prince George residents if the 2010 Olympics will benefit their part of the province and chances are they’ll say no.

The Games will be more than 500 kilometres away, so what’s in it for the Spruce City?

Rob Van Adrichem understands that sentiment but feels it’s misguided and points to the $31-million Northern Sport Centre at the University of Northern B.C. as the most obvious reason why.

“I really don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say the sport centre came about because of the 2010 Games,” the UNBC media relations director said. “Leading up to the Games, we made the case that if you really want to build up the quality of winter sports in B.C., you have to invest in high-quality training centres in universities.”

The province kicked in $20.5 million for the 13,000-square-metre sport centre that opened two years ago on the Prince George campus — with gymnasiums, a field house, indoor track, fitness equipment and offices for high-performance coaches and sport medicine services.

“I have no doubt the sport centre and the Prince George region will one day be the site of a national-calibre nordic ski training centre,” Van Adrichem said. “What we have here is like nothing else in Canada.”

After close to 1,000 area residents cheered the winning Vancouver 2010 announcement at a live telecast at UNBC in 2003, Prince George embarked on a strategy to use the Games to attract international athletes and business to the region.

The city sent a five-person delegation to the 2006 Games in Turin (at a cost of about $40,000) and was part of a 35-person northern B.C. delegation that attended the Beijing Olympics last year.

Prince George sells itself to international sport federations as an ideal location to train and compete in five key winter sports: curling, ice hockey, biathlon, short-track speed skating and cross-country skiing.

Area facilities include a biathlon venue, the Otway cross-country ski trails, the UNBC sport centre, the CN Centre arena and an aquatic centre with a 50-metre pool and diving tower.

Mayor Dan Rogers said the city hasn’t attracted any national teams for pre-Games training next year, but still hopes some speed skating and cross-country teams will make their way to Prince George before the Olympics.

“It has been a challenge, but some countries that won’t be in the high medal count don’t make plans until just prior to the Games,” he said. “So we’re still building on those contacts and hoping to get some of that training here.”

Prince George has attracted more than $1 million in provincial Legacies Now funding to support myriad sports-related events and infrastructure — including a video score clock for its arena and grants to support the 2007 national Junior A hockey championships, the 2008 BC Seniors Games and the 2009 World Baseball Challenge.

Rogers noted the 2007 Junior A hockey competition was one of the most successful in tournament history, from a financial perspective and also from an athlete’s perspective.

The city also will host pre-Olympic men’s and women’s curling trials in November and plans to bid for the right to host the 2015 Canada Winter Games.

Rogers said the experience Prince George has gained in establishing new Olympics-related relationships will serve it well in going after future events.

“We’re a great community for event hosting because we have world-class facilities and probably more volunteers per capita than anywhere else in Canada,” he said.

Initiatives Prince George vice-president Katherine Scouten said the city has attracted the attention of international sporting authorities since a 2006 visit from the director of China’s winter sports program.

A Chinese Olympic speed skater trained in Prince George for about six months in 2007, while the Chinese and Korean women’s curling teams competed in a local event last year before the world championships in Vernon. The Canadian and Swedish women’s hockey teams and the French men’s hockey team have also competed in the city.

“We have definitely gained an international platform for promoting our facilities and our expertise in coaching and event hosting,” Scouten said.

She said successes on the business side include a memorandum of understanding signed during the Beijing trip last year with the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing. CFLP will send a representative to Prince George next month to investigate the area’s transportation infrastructure and possibly invest in new regional distribution and warehousing facilities.

At least two Prince George-based companies won significant Olympic building contracts during the venue-construction phase. Geotech Drilling Services performed work on the Whistler Sliding Centre, while Ruskin Construction Ltd. built retaining and foundation walls on the Salt Building at Vancouver Olympic Village.

Prince George also will be one of 15 B.C. communities featured in a series of three-minute promotional videos to be shown on screens throughout Vancouver International Airport leading up to and during the Olympic Games.

Prince George was one of just a handful of B.C. communities at the Turin Games, Rogers noted, and the city used the Olympic connection to introduce itself to the world. The city plans a number of initiatives to give itself a significant presence in Vancouver during the Games.

“We realize the Lower Mainland and Whistler will likely benefit the most, but this is still a great opportunity to use this as a springboard to sell Prince George to a global marketplace,” Rogers said. “We’re going to reinforce all the positives about our volunteer spirit and community spirit and our fantastic facilities.”

Van Adrichem feels Prince George has gained a reputation for being aggressive about Olympics-related business and sporting opportunities, especially considering its relatively far-flung location from the centre of the Games action.

“If we just sit back and wait for the tourists and wait for the athletes and wait for the economic benefits, they’re not going to come here,” he said. “But if we really work at it, we should see some tangible benefits.”

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