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Several hundred students braved a long list of speakers and a chilling wind to attend a groundbreaking ceremony at the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center for what will be only the fourth speedskating oval in the nation.

The youngest fidgeted during much of the Monday event but cheered when U.S. Olympic Committee member Terry McCann told them the facility could turn them into champions."I know out there, right in front of me, is a future gold medaler in speedskating in the making," said McCann, himself a 1960 Olympic gold medalist in wrestling. "I know this oval will help make that a reality."

Backers of Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Winter Games hope the speedskating oval will turn their dream of hosting an Olympics into reality, too. The oval will be the state's third taxpayer-funded Olympic facility.

Ski jumpers began using the Utah Winter Sports Park in Bear Hollow near Park City in January 1993 and the first skaters hit Weber County's ice sheet in Ogden last month. The groundbreaking for the fourth Olympic project, a $20.5 million bobsled and luge run at the Utah Winter Sports Park, is scheduled for June 3.

The speedskating oval is expected to be completed before the International Olympic Committee narrows the list of 10 cities bidding for the 2002 Winter Games to four next January. The final choice will be made in June 1995.

The anticipated price tag for the oval was boosted more than $355,000 earlier Monday by the Utah Sports Authority, to $4.1 million. Most of the additional money will be used to build an ice sheet in the middle of the oval.

Utah Sports Authority Chairman Randy Dryer said the hockey-rink-size ice sheet will increase the amount of revenue the oval can bring in. The Sports Authority is also putting up $575,000 toward operating and maintaining the oval.

The Sports Authority plans to spend $59 million on Olympic facilities. If Salt Lake City is chosen to host the Winter Games, the state has agreed to sell the facilities to the privately funded Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee.

The oval, which is being built in conjunction with a $5.5 million Oquirrh Park Fitness Center expansion project, will be one of only four speedskating ovals in the United States. The others are in Butte, Mont.; West Alles, Wis.; and Lake Placid, N.Y.

The Kearns oval will remain uncovered unless Salt Lake City gets the 2002 Winter Games. The revenues that come with hosting an Olympics, not tax dollars, would pay for enclosing the oval.

Of course, the students who marched a block or so from their classrooms to be there when dignitaries overturned shovels full of sand at the fitness center probably weren't thinking much about how much the facility cost.

They were already impatient for their chance to try out the sport they'd watched American athletes triumph in at during the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

"It was really neat to watch them speed past each other," said Tracy Long, 81/2, a third-grader at Beehive Elementary School. "I think that all the kids are going to have a really fun time skating."

Classmate Jason Roberts, 9, is already certain the facility will be a success. "Everybody's going to use it, and the Olympics are going to be here," he said.

Their teacher, Kathie Jor-gen-sen, said many Beehive classes followed the fortunes of American speedskaters in anticipation of the new speedskating oval.

"They saw the sportsmanship and determination shown by Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair. It's so hard to find heroes," Jorgensen said. She said the oval will help teach students that hard work can make them winners, too.


Additional Information

Speedskating oval

Location: Oquirrh Park Fitness Center, 5624 S. 4800 West, Kearns

Includes: 400-meter oval speedskating track, three lanes, each 4 meters wide; and an international-size hockey rink (located in center of oval).

Bid opening: May 23, 1994

Construction start date: June 1, 1994

Completion date: Early December 1994

Projected cost: $4,132,015

Source of funding: $59 million Olympic winter sports facilities fund administered by Utah Sports Authority. The fund is also providing an additional $575,000 for the operation and maintenance of the speedskating oval.

Operating schedule: Ice should be available on the oval from December through February and on the ice sheet from November through March, depending on the weather. The rest of the year, the concrete under the ice will be exposed for in-line skating and other activities.