VANOC shrinks Olympic ice

By BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

VANOC is downsizing Olympic hockey.

The 60-metre by 26-metre North American-size rink, four metres narrower than the international standard, will be used at the 2010 Winter Olympics. General Motors Place's configuration and ice plant will stay the same, meaning a $10 million savings and 35,000 more tickets available.

The announcement came at a news conference to end the two-day IOC 2010 Coordination Commission visit to Vancouver and Whistler.

CoComm's chair is Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation. IIHF has approved the change, despite some resistance from European members.

"We're going to play with our rules," Fasel said. "I think it will work."

VANOC CEO John Furlong said the cutback is not related to ongoing lease negotiations with GM Place owner Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment. He said VANOC suggested using the domestic dimensions 18 months ago.

"This was a completely independent initiative," Furlong said.

Meanwhile, Fasel said CoComm is satisfied with VANOC's progress, despite budgetary woes. VANOC's construction costs are estimated at $580 million, a $110 million increase since 2002 estimates. VANOC has asked Ottawa and Victoria for more taxpayers' dollars to cover the shortfall.

IOC officials return next month to review the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. CoComm's next routine visits are March and September 2007.