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Kearns skating oval won't rival Nagano's

Want to know what the speed-skating oval in Kearns will look like once it's covered? Here's a hint: It won't look anything like the one built here for the 1998 Winter Games.

"This is palatial. This feels Olympic," Cathy Priestner Allinger, director of ice sports for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, said standing beneath the massive, suspended wood ceiling of Nagano's speed-skating oval.Allinger should know. She won a silver medal in speed-skating for Canada in the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria. Four years earlier, at 15, she was the youngest member of the Canadian Olympic Team in Sapporo, Japan.

She's one of more than 40 officials from SLOC here for the last winter Olympics before the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Allinger is also working as a sports commentator on Canada's national network, the CBC.

Much of her time will be spent at the speed-skating venue, named "M-Wave" because of its distinct shape. It's Japan's first indoor speed-skating oval and one of the world's largest.

Besides the unique shape that's meant to mimic the peaks of the Japan Alps, the 10,000-seat steel-framed arena features a lattice ceiling made from local larch timber. It cost nearly $300 million to build.

Salt Lake organizers have budgeted just $31.5 million to transform the outdoor oval at the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center in Kearns into an Olympic-caliber facility.

It'll be one of the toughest jobs for organizers, since money is tight and SLOC officials have already determined it's going to be easier to tear up the existing oval than to build around it.

The amount of money available could go up once a review of SLOC's $1 billion budget is finished, but it'll never be enough to equal the investment Nagano organizers have made in what's becoming the symbol of the '98 Games.

The organizing committee has just started looking for a design team so construction can start early next year. The project is expected to be completed by the fall of 2000.

Allinger said there are still many decisions to be made about the Kearns oval, including the number of permanent seats. Her main concern is that the facility can be used after 2002 by recreational and elite skaters.

That means the facility must be permanently enclosed and provide lockers and other amenities for athletes. It doesn't mean the oval has to make a design statement, Allinger said.

"I really think it would be an absolute crime to put millions and millions (into the oval) and have it all self-destruct," she said. "I would hate to see us be a temporary Olympics."

Utah taxpayers contributed $59 million toward the oval and other Olympic facilities, including the bobsled and luge track near Park City. The money is due to be repaid by the largely privately funded organizing committee.

SLOC Chief Executive Officer Frank Joklik has already made it clear that Utahns should not expect to see anything as elaborate as the M-Wave constructed for the 2002 Games.

Allinger agreed. "Reality says it's excessive," she said of the Nagano oval. "This is not the standard that Salt Lake necessarily has to meet . . . To want to be everything Nagano is would be a mistake anyway."