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Wet weather poses no problem for Whistler's Olympic events Add to ...

Clouds shrouded the two steep ski jumps cut into a forested mountain at Callaghan Valley near Whistler and rain pelted down.

Whereas wet weather may be causing problems elsewhere, it won't affect the staging of competitions at Whistler Olympic Park, the $120-million venue showcased to media yesterday by the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

"We can run events in some inclement conditions," John Heilig, ski sites manager for VANOC, said in an interview at the base of the 120-metre and 90-metre ski jumps, where workers cleared snow from the temporary metal bleachers that will seat 2,400 spectators.

The construction of Whistler Olympic Park, where an additional $20-million has been spent on preparations and test events, means that for the first time in the history of the Winter Games that ski jump, cross-country skiing and biathlon will be held at a single venue. In Calgary, for instance, the ski jumps were on the edge of the city and the Nordic Centre for cross-country and biathlon was an hour west in Canmore.

Four years ago in Turin, Italy, ski jump and cross-country were a couple of kilometres apart, but biathlon was an hour away.

The compact site - one square kilometre - at Whistler Olympic Park is a boon for spectators, organizers said, with the three main areas about 400 metres away from each other.

"It's not easy to find a valley and the right area to put all these things together," said John Aalberg, director of Whistler Olympic Park for VANOC. He helped design the skiing courses, as he did in Turin, and Salt Lake in 2002.

Weather in the Callaghan Valley is generally mild and calm in February, VANOC said, with the average daily temperature ranging from +3 to -4. The site, 18 kilometres south of Whistler, is about 10 minutes from the main Highway 99, at an elevation of about 900 metres. There's ample snow in the valley and snow is so plentiful in the area that snow-making equipment has been installed only for the ski jump landing hill. Currently it's not needed.

Ski jump is the first event at the 2010 Olympics, with a preliminary round on the morning of Feb. 12. The first gold medal will be awarded on Feb. 13. The "Austrian Eagles" - a quartet of star jumpers - are poised to dominate.

Mr. Aalberg said the biggest compliment for the ski jump was the enthusiasm of the Austrians, who are typically critical of venues. In a World Cup event held here last February, then-19-year-old Gregor Schlierenzauer won both events and set a hill distance record, a wind-aided 149 metres. Mr. Schlierenzauer briefly mulled easing back on the jump but afterward commented: "I said, 'Aaahh, be cool and go.' "

Fifteen kilometres of ski trails have been built for the Games. Last winter, some skiers said the courses were somewhat easy and Mr. Aalberg acknowledged Whistler Olympic Park doesn't feature any epic climbs. However, in the men's 50-kilometre cross-country race, the athletes will ascend a sum of 2,000 vertical metres - more than the entire elevation of Whistler Mountain.

"The courses are quite challenging and quite technical," Mr. Aalberg said.

"It's a very fast course," biathlete Jean-Philippe Le Guellec, a Canadian medal contender, told The Globe in a recent interview. "There's not much area to rest, not much climbing. It's very roll-y."

The venue was almost ready as of yesterday, with final blue-and-green VANOC Olympics decorations still to adorn the various video screens and bleachers already in place.

Twenty-eight events - a third of the total for the Games - will be staged at Whistler Olympic Park: 10 in biathlon (which combines target shooting and cross-country skiing), 12 cross-country, three ski jump and three Nordic combined (a blend of ski jump and cross-country).

For the Paralympics in March, Whistler Olympic Park is home to half of all the medal events, with 20 in cross-country and 12 in biathlon.

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