British Columbia

Olympic construction nears completion as Oval opens

The public will get a first-hand look inside the Richmond speedskating oval when the mammoth new building is officially opened Friday afternoon, a full 14 months before the 2010 Olympics.

Whistler's new Peak 2 Peak gondola opens with three world records

The public will get a first-hand look inside the Richmond speedskating oval when the mammoth new building is officially opened Friday afternoon, a full 14 months before the 2010 Olympics.

A weekend of opening events is planned, including public skating on the oval that features a panoramic view of the North Shore mountains under the largest freestanding roof in B.C.

With its dramatic architecture, the Oval will likely be remembered as the signature building of the 2010 Games, but experts don't expect to see any sports records broken at the $178-million structure, because it sits at sea level, meaning the ice will be slower than other venues.

After the Games, the Oval, which was built on the banks of the Fraser River by the city of Richmond with funding from VANOC and the federal and provincial governments, will become an multi-sport facility, with two international-size ice rinks, eight gymnasiums, a 200-metre running track and 23,000-square-foot fitness centre.

The opening of the Olympic Oval means only one competition venue for the 2010 Olympic Games has yet to be completed: the curling facility in Queen Elizabeth Park.

Construction continues on the financially troubled Olympic Village in Vancouver, along with other training venues and the athletes' village in Whistler.

Peak-to-peak gondola opens in Whistler

Meanwhile, up in Whistler, there may not be much snow yet this year, but another new attraction is opening on the ski hill that will host the downhill ski events at the 2010 Games.

Known as Peak 2 Peak, the inter-alpine gondola was to open to the public Friday morning, connecting the upper slopes of the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

Built at cost of $50 million and in the works for 10 years, the three-kilometre span between the main towers will be the highest and longest unsupported cable car span in the world.

Two cars will have glass floors, allowing the 28 passengers to look down nearly half a kilometre to Fitzsimmons Creek below.

The 28 cars will carry more than 2,000 people per hour a total distance of 4.4 km between the peak stations on a ride that will last about 11 minutes.

Peak 2 Peak, which was designed and built by a team of Swiss and Austrian specialists, will also put Whistler in the record books for the longest continuous lift system in the world.