2010 Chef de Mission Attends Speed Skating Sport Event, Olympic Excitement Builds

The first indoor sport event for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games was a success last weekend. It was a World Cup short track speed skating event, held at the Pacific Coliseum. And Canada’s 2010 Chef de Mission, Nathalie Lambert, was there to take it in.

“It was a huge success for both the Canadian Team and the organizer,” said Lambert, Olympic speed skating triple medallist. The goal – outside of Canadian skaters racing for the podium – was to test a major short track event in its Olympic venue. It was to discover any gaps well in advance, assess preparation thus far, and train staff who will be in place at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Lambert said the short track facility, which can hold 12,000 spectators, is Canada’s best-ever for the sport – and biggest. “Just for its size, it’s going to be amazing for the athletes. All the facilities we’ve seen look amazing and even the Olympic Village is half finished.”

The Coliseum, at Vancouver’s Hastings Park, is now 40 years old. Nevertheless, it drew positive reviews after the World Cup came to town. It will host both short track speed skating (which needs harder ice) and figure skating (requiring softer ice). More than 4,500 spectators came to watch the World Cup races on Oct. 26 alone, the day Canadian speed skaters won six of their total of eight medals over the weekend.

Amazing is how Lambert described the atmosphere in the Coliseum. “The Canadian team had the experience of skating before their home crowd, feeling the noise and ambience in the rink,” she said. “They got a feeling of what it will be like at the Olympics 15 months from now.”

Those eight medals over the weekend helped generate roars from the crowd. Lambert also pointed out that Vancouver is home to many Chinese and Korean residents, which helped add to the noise. If the Coliseum in 2010 grows loud in a final that features no Canadians, but perhaps a Korean or Chinese skater, you’ll know why.

VANOC kept close tabs on its second-ever sport event. Officials learned what it will take to keep ice conditions optimal, a sometimes tricky procedure for a sea-level arena. They tested transitions from speed skating to figure skating. They also tested padding for the races, interview areas, timing and scoring systems, medical services, anti-doping procedures and communications.

But for Nathalie Lambert, it was a special time to connect with Canada’s short track skaters, many of whom she’d never met. She was careful not to disturb them during the competition, but made sure to congratulate them afterward. Lambert recognizes that speed skating is a vital sport for Canada, where a lot of medal possibilities loom for 2010.

Overall, Lambert said to have such a large crowd at a World Cup speed skating event shows that Olympic excitement is brewing. “The spirit is definitely building up in Vancouver and there is a lot of enthusiasm about hosting the Games,” she said.

VANOC’s next sport events fall Jan. 16 to 18 with both Nordic combined and cross-country ski World Cups at Whistler Olympic Park.