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Olympics will benefit region, Canadian says

Sport minister touts tourism, infrastructure linked to games

BOISE – The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., will be an economic boon at a time when one is badly needed, Canada’s minister of state for sport told officials from throughout the region Tuesday.

“It’s put us in a very strong position,” Minister Gary Lunn told 500 U.S. and Canadian officials gathered in Boise for the annual summit meeting of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region. “You’re going to see a lot of Americans traveling to the Pacific Northwest.”

Already, he said, “The province built a brand-new highway from Vancouver to Whistler.” In addition to boosting access to the Olympics, that’ll make the popular Whistler-Blackcomb resort area more accessible to travelers.

The Olympics, which open Feb. 12, will bring travelers along the Interstate 90 corridor through Coeur d’Alene and Spokane, said Idaho state Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene. Goedde is co-chairman of a session on tourism at the organization’s conference this week. Restaurants, motels, gas stations and other businesses will benefit, he said.

“Even in our current recession, there are still opportunities to capitalize on travel – that’s a good thing,” Goedde said.

Spokane will host the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which will determine the U.S. competitors at the Vancouver games. That event will conclude just 18 days before the Olympics start. Spokane officials estimate that the figure skating championships will generate $17 million in direct spending in the city, plus $1.4 million in state and local taxes.

Canada has spent $2 billion preparing for the games, including construction of new sporting venues. “They’re absolutely breathtaking,” Lunn boasted. The luge and bobsled track built for the 2010 games has been declared the fastest such course in the world, he said.

The 2010 games will mark the debut of a new Olympic event, ski cross, in which four to six skiers at once race through a high-speed course filled with jumps, banked turns and obstacles.

Lunn is hoping the games offer another first for Canada. “We’ve had two Olympic games before, in Montreal and in Calgary, and we have never, never won a gold medal at home,” he said. To applause, he declared, “That’s going to change.”