We're one of the few cities that, 12 years after our games, I can proudly say (our Olympic facilities) are busier than we were before the games. —Colin Hilton, CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation
SALT LAKE CITY — The Olympic flame will soon be burning in Sochi, Russia.
With the Winter Games just a few weeks away, athletes from all over the country are competing in Olympic trials right here in Utah for a spot on Team USA.
It’s one of the ways Utah is using the facilities built for the 2002 Winter Olympics, and the fact that these facilities are still in use is no small feat, Olympic experts say.
"In the mid-'90s, there was all of three ice rinks in all of Utah. There are 17 today," said Colin Hilton, CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation.
That figure includes the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns. It was built for the 2002 Games, but the ice rink still gets a lot of use today — from public skating to Olympic training. It is also the headquarters for U.S. Speedskating, ensuring its use for years to come.
In addition to boasting "the fastest ice on Earth," the Olympic Oval regularly hosts runners on its 442-meter track.
To have an Olympic facility still in use more than a decade after it was showcased to the world is something Hilton called "a rare feat." In fact, he said, every single 2002 venue in Utah is still used.
The Kearns Oval is hosting the U.S. Speedskating Olympic Trials this week. In Park City, the ski jumps and the Nordic Combined Track hosted U.S. Olympic trials this past weekend.
"We're one of the few cities that, 12 years after our games, I can proudly say (our Olympic facilities) are busier than we were before the games," Hilton said.
He attributes that to a long-term plan to use the facilities, a plan that was put in place before they were built.
More than 45 World Cups or championships have been hosted in Utah since 2002, including the Nordic Combined National Championship at the Olympic Park.
Aspiring Olympians can get their first taste of sports like the bobsled and skeleton at the park, or can enjoy summer activities like the alpine slide and zip lines.
Soldier Hollow added to its miles of cross-country ski trails and transitioned into a year-round resort.
London has a similar plan to use its Olympic venues built for the 2012 Summer Games, but it remains to be seen how successful it will be.
The Bird's Nest, which was China's centerpiece during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, hardly gets any significant use now. Only the Water Cube, which hosted swimming events in 2008, gets regular use after being turned into a water park.
In addition to regular recreational use, Utah's Olympic facilities even help breed the next generation of U.S. Olympians.
Abby Hughes is a ski jumper on the U.S. Ski Team hoping to make the Sochi Olympics is 2014. It helps that she was born and raised in Park City, with world-class facilities in her backyard.
"I'm really fortunate my parents chose to come here from Pennsylvania," Hughes said, "and being raised in Park City, I couldn't ask for anything else."
Women's ski jumping will be a medal event in the Olympic Games for the first time in Sochi.
On Sunday, Jessica Jerome became the first-ever woman ski jumper to earn a spot in the Winter Olympics. Three more spots will be decided Jan. 22.
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