VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The first indoor competition venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver has been completed on budget and four months ahead of schedule, organizers said on Monday.
Organizers said early completion of the 5,000-seat ice hockey facility was a key step in meeting their pledge to have all sporting venues up and running a year before the Games begin in February 2010.
"We're in really good shape. The venues have moved along beautifully," John Furlong, chief executive of the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC), said after a ceremony at the new Thunderbird Arena.
Men's and women's ice hockey competitions in the 2010 Games will be held at the new arena and at GM Place in downtown Vancouver, a 18,600-seat facility that is home to the National Hockey League's Vancouver Canucks.
The new hockey facility, which is at the University of British Columbia, will also be used for ice sledge hockey in the 2010 Paralympics to be held immediately after the Olympic Games.
Vancouver organizers were able to ease a budget crunch two years ago when the International Ice Hockey Federation allowed the 2010 Games to be the first to use the smaller ice surface at GM Place, which is the standard size for North American arenas.
At the Thunderbird Arena opening, veteran NHL coach Pat Quinn, who coached Canada's gold medal men's hockey team in the 2002 Olympics, said having all the venues ready well before the start of the Games could aid Canadian athletes, who will be able to practice in them.
"They'll get to know the hills, they'll get to know the arenas. Maybe that will be the big difference. If it does, good on us," he said.
Construction crews are still working the facilities to be used for speed skating and curling, but the facilities for most ski and snowboarding events are ready.
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