Oslo rolls out its Olympic plans

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City officials have rolled out prospects for a Winter Olympics in Oslo in 2022 that would cost at least NOK 2o billion (USD 3.6 billion) and spur major redevelopment of the city’s semi-industrial northeast side. It would also play heavily on the success of the 1994 Olympics at Lillehammer, re-using facilities built in that area for alpine and bobsledding events.

Oslo's east side stands to get the most redevelopment from an Olympics in 2022, as shown in this architect's rendition of plans for an Olympic Village and media center in the district of Grouddalen. PHOTO: OSLO2022/Oslo kommune/Snøhetta

Oslo’s east side stands to get the most redevelopment from an Olympics in 2022, as shown in this architect’s rendition of plans for an Olympic Village and media center in the district of Grouddalen. PHOTO: OSLO2022/Oslo kommune/Snøhetta

That breaks from the plan to keep Oslo’s so-called “Games in the City” project located in or around the Norwegian capital. It takes around two- to three hours to drive or take the train to Kvitfjell in the mountain valley known as Gudbrandsdalen, but many sports officials hailed the decision to use the downhill and slalom slopes there that also still are frequently used in World Cup competition.

The main alternative had been to locate the alpine skiing events at Norefjell, another popular alpine skiing center much closer to Oslo that also was used in the Winter Olympics of 1952. Norefjell promoters were disappointed, but both sports bureaucrats and Lillehammer officials were relieved.

“Norefjell was an exciting prospect, but we have chosen the Lillehammer area,” said Oslo city government leader Stian Berger Røsland. “We also think the good reputation of the Olympics in 1994 can be important.”

All the other Olympic events are planned for the Oslo area with only the adjacent township of Bærum allocated a venue for major competition (figure skating at the Telenor Arena at Fornebu) and Lørenskog just northeast of Oslo getting the curling competition.

City government leader Stian Berger Røsland from the Conservative Party sees great economic development prospects from an Olympics, and is keen to exploit the success of the last Olympics held in Norway by reusing facilities in and around Lillehammer. PHOTO: OSLO2022/Oslo kommune

City government leader Stian Berger Røsland from the Conservative Party sees great economic development prospects from an Olympics, and is keen to exploit the success of the last Olympics held in Norway by reusing facilities in and around Lillehammer. PHOTO: OSLO2022/Oslo kommune

Otherwise the Oslo organizers plan to have ski jumping and Nordic skiing events in the hills at Holmenkollen, as expected, with freestyle and snowboard events at Wyllerløypa and Grefsenkollen, biathlon at Linderud on the city’s east side, ice hockey in new arenas to be built at Stubberud and Jordal and speed skating in a rebuilt arena at Valle Hovin. The plans would allow for what city officials believe are badly needed new skating facilities in Oslo.

“All of this is what Oslo needs even without an Olympics,” Ola Elvestuen, the city government official in charge of sports, told newspaper Dagsavisen.

Opening and closing ceremonies would either be held at Norway’s national football stadium at Ullevål or at a new stadium at Bjerke or on the Ekeberg plateau, both on the east side. An Olympic Village to house athletes along with a media center are planned for Kjelsrud, Breivoll and Økern, also in the eastern urban area known as Groruddalen.

Long road ahead
Much remains to be decided, not least whether city officials will actually vote to apply to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to host a Winter Games and whether the state would provide a financial guarantee. The city also needs to drum up public support for an Olympics because of the enormous costs involved, which range from NOK 20 billion at the low end to NOK 34 billion at the high end. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that when adjusted for inflation, the city’s own estimate of NOK 20 billion-23 billion amounts to twice as much as the amount spent on the Lillehammer Olympics 20 years ago, despite the city’s attempts at moderation and re-use of facilities.

And despite Norway’s solid economy and oil wealth, many Norwegians think the money would be better spent on schools, nursing homes, health care and other community services. The city already has decided to hold a rare referendum on the issue in conjunction with national elections in September. The referendum itself has been controversial, because they’re rarely held in Norway and because Oslo’s tens of thousands of permanent residents who are non-citizens but normally allowed to vote in municipal elections would be excluded, since it will be part of national election balloting.

‘More than just a sporting event’
A major rival for Oslo dropped out last week as a potential host site, when voters in St Moritz and Davos, Switzerland decided they didn’t want to move forward with an expensive Olympic project. “That increases our chances,” claimed Eli Grimsby, who’s heading the Olympic project for Oslo. Others view the Swiss rejection as a warning that Oslo should be careful about taking on such an expensive project as well, but Grimsby claims “this isn’t just an event that will last for 14 days. It will benefit Norwegians all over the country both before and after the Winter Games. In terms of health and activities, we’ll start four years before the games and continue afterwards.”

Oslo tourism officials and hotel operators like Petter Stordalen were predictably positive to the Olympic prospects. “I think this will be a fantastic possibility for Oslo,” Stordalen told DN. “I just hope it leads to construction of new arenas like they’re building in Stockholm even without an Olympics.” He sees benefits from economic and real estate development, and new facilities that could attract more international conferences and other visitors in the future.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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