Athletes flock to Vancouver for 2010 Games countdown

Tue Feb 3, 2009 5:32pm EST
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By Steve Keating

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Hundreds of Olympic athletes will converge on Vancouver and Whistler over the next two weeks for competitions to mark the one-year countdown to the 2010 Winter Games.

The arrival of the athletes, many of whom will be back in 12 months chasing their golden dreams, is providing a welcome respite from the doom and gloom of a global economic crisis threatening the Games budget.

It has been a particularly harsh winter for the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC), trimming costs in an effort to reign in an operating budget that last week rose by C$127 million to C$1.75 billion ($1.42 billion).

VANOC and taxpayers are also bracing themselves for another bill this week when the Olympic security budget is expected to be announced.

The original security costs for the Games were set at $175 million but Chief Superintendent Bud Mercer, the man in charge of the 2010 Integrated Security Unit, recently suggested the budget would be closer to $1 billion.

Despite the belt-tightening and hand-wringing, there are plenty of parties and celebrations planned to help lighten the mood as the one-year countdown begins on February 12 in the presence of International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge.

"We are in the paper every day, either good or bad, but it (the Olympics) is definitely on the minds of people," Tim Gayda, VANOC vice-president of sports, told Reuters.

"When we bring these events in, the focus goes back to what the Games are all about which is sport.   Continued...