With memories of Dan Jansen's and Bonnie Blair's Olympic victories still fresh, Kearns residents are hoping for a gold-medal speedskating show in their community during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
At the heart of their dreams for an Olympic fortnight is the Kearns speedskating oval, where construction is scheduled in May at a site adjacent to the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center, 5624 S. 4800 West.An uncovered oval, a far cry from an enclosed ice palace envisioned by Olympic boosters, is expected to be completed by fall of this year. That'll be in time for a full outdoor speedskating season before the International Olympic Committee decides in June 1995 whether Salt Lake City will host the 2002 Games, according to David Howick, director of the fitness center.
Utah Sports Authority and Oquirrh Park officials say the giant ice oval and an ice sheet in its center will initially be built at a cost of about $3.7 million. Another $550,000 in tax dollars would be spent over the next nine years for operating the outdoor oval. Eventually the state or a future Olympics organizing committee could sell the oval to the special service district that operates the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center.
The 400-meter oval track, similar in length to the running tracks that circle local high school football fields, would have a speedskating season from November until February. There would be two competition lanes and a warm-up lane. During the summer, warmer weather would bring in-line skaters.
Howick said the outdoor oval is set to become a key sports development center. The national speedskating association is promising a coach to live in Salt Lake to help train athletes year-round. Howick hopes for a junior amateur competition next winter to break in the track and said he's already receiving calls from those at the top of the sport asking when construction will be finished.
If the experience of the recently opened John Rose Minnesota OVAL in Roseville, Minn., holds true the Kearns oval will become popular with local schoolchildren. That outdoor oval, which cost $4 million, is home to local schools learning the new sport. A local sporting-goods manufacturer donated "beginner" speedskates for girls. About 87 girls have signed up to participate.
Randy Dryer, chairman of the Utah Sports Authority, sees large potential interest in speedskating in Utah, particularly with the popularity of figure skating and running.
"I think there is a tremendous untapped pool of young people who would like to try. Speed-skating is road running on ice. We have a large number of runners in Utah and I think you will find joggers and runners who want to try speedskating for no other reason but to cross train," he said.
Along with figure skating and hockey, he also believes that the Oquirrh Park Center would be a likely site for bandy - a limited-contact sport often described as a cross between hockey and soccer.
If Salt Lake wins the Olympic bid in 1995, Olympic revenues will be used to put a roof on the oval and build a second ice sheet in the center of the speedskating track.
However, if Salt Lake receives the bid, covering the Kearns oval may not come until 1991 or 2001. Costs for covering the oval could run anywhere from $10 to $20 million, Dryer said.
However, it will be a future Olympics organizing committee that would make such a decision. The cost will depend on the type of construction used.
Dryer and Howick say if the oval is covered it will be unique among those in use in the United States. Outdoor ovals are currently operating in Roseville, Minn., Lake Placid, N.Y. and Butte, Mont.
A covered Salt Lake oval would be the fifth such facility in the world - including those in Calgary; Heerenveen, Netherlands; and Hamar, Norway.
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