Vancouver-Whistler will host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Most people are probably asking themselves questions like, "What does this mean for me? When can I buy tickets to go see the events?" Or, "Why are we wasting so much money on this, when our health-care costs are rising?"
High-performance athletes are asking themselves whole different sets of questions. Many are asking themselves "What am I going to be doing in 2010? Skiing, or watching?" "Do I stick around the sport that long?" "How much more money is coming into my sport?"
That Vancouver has won the Games is a positive thing for high-performance sport in Canada. Sure, the Games will be expensive, and the majority of the cost will not be going anywhere near the athletes; the majority will go into staging the Games, putting on the spectacles, building the roads, and renovating or constructing entirely new facilities. This will cost upwards of $1.3 billion, most funded by our provincial and federal governments, with a negligible amount coming from the IOC's advertising revenues. But all of that money is new money for sport; without the Olympics, Canadian athletes would not have seen any increase in funding at all.
For cross-country skiers, it means years of increased funding streams. Sport Canada and the Canadian Olympic Association now have an interest in proving ourselves at our own Olympics. Much like in 1988, when the Olympic Endowment Fund doubled and tripled sport association funding in the years leading up to Calgary, Cross Country Canada will see their development budgets increase. Hopefully, however, unlike Calgary, the funding increase will be less sudden and more sustained. Development cycles in cross-country skiing mean that increased funding in the two to three-year period leading up to the Olympics will do less for the sport than, say, a six-year increase would mean. And following the Olympics, it will be important to continue funding to build on development, rather than cut funding streams by up to two-thirds, as after Calgary.
The second benefit will be from exposure. While recreational cross-country skiing is increasingly popular in Canada, racing is still a smallish affair that receives national media exposure only during big events such as World Championships and the Olympics. Increased exposure of all Olympic sports will mean more private sponsorship and increased numbers in racing programs. This is excellent for the long-term health of the sport. Cross Country Canada has excellent youth development programs which are ready to accommodate younger athletes and more interest in the sport. Olympic exposure will likely help to place youth into these programs.
A third benefit is a sticking point for some. Vancouver's Olympics will mean the construction of an entirely new, world-class cross-country ski facility in Canada. It will be built in the Callaghan Valley, currently an undeveloped back-country and telemark paradise near Whistler. There isn't even a road in yet! Many feel that Canada already has enough of these facilities, and that rather than build white elephants, we should focus on building Olympic medallists. There are certainly a number of fine racing facilities in Canada; Canmore, Mont Ste Anne, Val Cartier, Silver Star, Lappe, etc. Not to mention Big Thunder, the brand-new facility built for the 1995 World Championships which had to be closed because of an unworkable business model. However, a new facility brings the potential for a new population centre for cross-country skiing. And, this money going towards the facility is not money which would have otherwise been going towards athlete development; the money would never have been spent in sport at all! So, a facility is likely a benefit, with two caveats; first, that there is significant legacy funding to make the centre workable for many years after the Olympics; and second, that it is able to attract skiers. Many worry that, without a large permanent population base in the nearby region, the Callaghan Valley Centre will be another white elephant. Many argue that it is too far away to attract Vancouver cross-country skiers. Whether it can be successful or not depends on it long-term management and accessibility. Canmore, Calgary's ski centre, has been very successful while being an hour away from a large population centre.
Overall, then, having the Olympic in Canada will have positive benefits for our sport. It is important, however, that long-term strategic plans for development and management are in place for both the facility and athletes, to ensure that the legacy of Vancouver doesn't leave an unexpectedly bitter taste.