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Big incentive helps lure speedskating group

SHARE Big incentive helps lure speedskating group

It's worth $400,000 to the state for the U.S. Speedskating organization to relocate its headquarters from Ohio to the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

That's how much money the Utah Sports Commission has agreed to pay the sport's national governing body over the next five years, officials said Wednesday during a press conference called to announce the move.

"It was a bargain," Jeff Robbins, the commission's president and CEO, said, predicting the state will be able to attract even more sporting events to the state now that the speedskating group has joined the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association in calling Utah home.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the move "is indicative how far we've come" since hosting the 2002 Winter Games and tells "the rest of the world Utah is the undisputed winter sports headquarters."

The governor said he is confident the investment will pay off for the state as well as for the sport. Huntsman later described the state's efforts to attract U.S. Speedskating as economic development.

The Utah Athletic Foundation, which oversees the oval as well as the bobsled track and ski jumps at the Utah Olympic Park near Park City, can now expect to get more money from the U.S. Olympic Committee toward training costs for speedskating.

Extra funds from the USOC should help reduce the foundation's annual operating deficit, now $4 million annually. Colin Hilton, foundation executive director and CEO, said the amount of the training subsidy is part of ongoing negotiations with the USOC.

U.S. Speedskating executive director Bob Crowley said only two of the organization's eight employees plan to make the move from the current headquarters, located in a community near Cleveland.

Crowley said more employees will be hired after the relocation is completed this month. He said U.S. Speedskating, which has undergone a reorganization, wanted to be closer to where its athletes train.

The oval track, next to the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center, will continue to be one of several training facilities nationwide. Others are in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Colorado. Crowly said U.S. Speedskating considered moving to Colorado Springs, home to the USOC.

Robbins said the commission, which received about half of its $1.5 million annual budget from the state, will pay U.S. Speedskating $50,000 a year for five years for hosting events and another $75,000 a year for two years toward relocation costs.

Speedskaters were excited about the move, including Olympic gold medalist Derek Parra, one of the stars of the Salt Lake Games. Parra, who recently bought a home in Draper, said he hopes to coach athletes here making the transition from inline skating to speedskating.

"This is the best rink in the world, by far," Parra said of the oval, known as the fastest ice on earth. He said Utah is a good fit for the sport. "The spirit of community here, since I've been here in 2001, is incredible. They really hosted the Games well."

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