Olympic Ambition

  • Olympic  Ambition
Issue 31, January 2011.

Flush with the relative success of their Euro 2012 preparations and no doubt goaded by the bragging of neighbouring Russia with its 2018 World Cup and 2014 Winter Olympics, Ukraine’s officials have recently begun talking up the chances of an Olympic Games of their own. The good news for Leopolitans is that Lviv is the designated venue for this ambitious Ukrainian bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Such lofty ambitions may seem a touch farfetched to many readers familiar with everyday life in the West Ukrainian capital, but a Leopolitan Olympics is not actually as much of a stretch as it might appear at first glance. After all, the massive infrastructure works currently underway ahead of Euro 2012 will bring the city’s transport connections more or less up to scratch, providing Lviv’s bid with everything it needs in terms of communications to host a Winter Olympic Games. The nearby Carpathian Mountains are also well-suited to the outdoor sports featured in the Winter Olympics, and while facilities at most Ukrainian ski resorts continue to remain somewhat dated there is plenty of time before 2022 to put that right. Developments at the Ukrainian Carpathian ski resort Bukovel, which in recent years has undergone radical modernization and transformed itself into one of Eastern Europe’s most up-to-date winter sports venues, suggest that an Olympic upgrade would not be out of the question. Ukraine’s only previous experience of hosting an Olympic level sporting event came in 1980 when Kyiv played host to a number of football matches during the Moscow Olympics – a legacy which is reflected in the Olympic Stadium in the Ukrainian capital. However, hosting an entire Winter Games would be a logistical task of an entirely different magnitude.

Bubka’s dream of a Ukrainian Olympics
The head of Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee Serhiy Bubka spoke recently about his confidence that Lviv could be ready in time for the 2022 Winter Games. While acknowledging that the West Ukrainian capital city would have to begin its preparations from scratch, he argued that there is more than enough time between now and winter 2022 to put in place everything required for a successful Olympics. “It generally takes around seven years to prepare a city to host a Winter Olympics and so there is more than enough time. Plenty of previous host countries have begun from scratch and we will do the same,’ Olympic legend Bubka commented in late 2010. His optimism has been echoed by Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister for Euro 2012 Boris Kolesnikov, who paid a high-profile visit to Carpathian Mountains ski resorts over the New Year holiday period. “The region’s infrastructure is already very well developed thanks to our Euro 2012 preparations. If we begin our Winter Olympic Games preparations now I have every confidence that the Olympic Committee will accept our  application,” the Deputy PM said, adding that while preparations for a Winter Olympics would be expensive, these costs could be spread over the intervening decade. “The recent Vancouver Winter Olympics required USD 10 billion in investment despite the fact that all the key infrastructure elements were already in place, but this is not necessarily an obstacle. Preparing to host a Winter Olympics for the first time is expensive but if we look to invest USD 1 billion annual then we stand a good chance of being ready in time for 2022. Our main task at this stage is to convince the International Olympic Committee that we are serious contenders and we must look to work with Lviv regional authorities to construct two Olympic Villages,” Mr. Kolesnikov commented.

Key role envisaged for Tysovets
Initial plans envisage one Olympic Village based at the existing Lviv region resort of Tysovets – a sprawling former Red Army winter sports facility complete with existing ski jump ramp which offers both a stunning location and good  rail and road connections to Lviv. Construction work to transform the largely Soviet-era infrastructure at Tysovets into a state-of-the-art facility is tentatively planned for 2013-15. A second Olympic Village and sports complex would then
be constructed elsewhere in the Lviv region Carpathians in 2018- 21. Snowboarding events would be held at the existing ski resort Slavske, while ski jumping and bob sled events would be held at Tysovets, which would also host  biathlon tracks and downhill skiing events together with Volovets. Deputy PM Kolesnikov said he anticipated that 70% of investment needed to develop Lviv’s ski resorts would be found in the private sector, with investors financing the
construction of hotels and other hospitality sector features which would then be able to offer exciting long-term returns as the region’s winter sports tourism potential was finally tapped. The remaining 30% of expenditure – required to fund the upgrading of regional road and rail links – would be met by the state. Lviv’s hopes of future  Olympic glory were first boosted earlier in 2010 when President Yanukovych offered his support for a Carpathian bid, but there remains some doubt over whether Lviv will be chosen ahead of rival Ukrainian host cities in the region including Uzhgorod, Chernivtsi and Ivano-Frankivsk, which already boasts the impressive Bukovel complex. However, while Kolesnikov has so far failed to offer any definitive judgment as to which Ukrainian city would be the best choice for a Winter Olympic bid, he did state that Lviv’s Euro 2012 infrastructure developments – notably the  city’s soon-to-be operational international airport – would make the city a natural choice.

No mere publicity stunt
As plans for a possible Lviv Winter Olympics were first unveiled in late 2010 former Lviv Oblast Governor Vasyl Horbal denied that the idea of an Olympic bid was no mere publicity stunt. ‘This is not an attempt to generate cheap publicity for Lviv region’s winter sports potential,” Horbal commented, “it is a national project which is designed to prepare the region systematically for the responsibility of hosting a Winter Games.” The Cabinet of Ministers has already set up an Organizing Committee to prepare and support Ukraine’s application to the International Olympic Committee. “The task of the Organizing Committee at this stage is to develop and approve a plan for Ukraine’s bid to the International Olympic Committee and coordinate efforts at the highest governmental level,” confirmed Minister of Family, Youth and Sports Ravil Safiullin during the New Year holiday period. Safiullin argued that the creation of a high-level committee demonstrates the serious intent of the Ukrainian authorities and highlights what is being seen as  the readiness of the government to build on the success of Euro 2012 by bidding for the 2022 Games.

Olympic politics could favour Lviv
Recent history would suggest that a Ukrainian bid would be given due consideration by the international Olympic authorities. As an emerging market of relatively untapped winter sports potential, Ukraine would fit well with the current ethos of using major global sporting events to kick-start growth in the developing world and expand the reach of the world’s biggest sporting events. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was a key event underlining this  relatively new trend, while Ukraine and Poland’s status as co-hosts of Euro 2012 also owes much to this desire to see previously peripheral nations given the chance to boost their profiles and enjoy their share of the international limelight by hosting the planet’s most prestigious sporting spectacles. In the next decade we will see Brazil host both the Olympics and the World Cup, while Russia and Qatar are also among the less fashionable nations to win the right to host FIFA’s flagship World Cup Finals. With this in mind, it looks like Ukraine’s biggest rivals for the right to host the 2022 Winter Games are likely to be neighbouring Poland and Romania. Although a host of American, Canadian, German and other West European nations has also expressed an interest in hosting the 2022 Games, none of them offer the expansionist opportunities of a leap into the relative unknown of the former Socialist Bloc. Poland’s Zakopane winter sports resort, which at present is far more developed than anything which the Ukrainian Carpathians can currently offer, has already bid for one Winter Olympics – the 2006 Games which were eventually awarded to Turin. Any Polish bid may also include plans to co-host the Games with neighbouring Slovakia or the Czech Republic – a tempting combination for Olympic officials on the look-out for fresh pastures and new markets. Meanwhile, Romania’s Prahova Valley has been mentioned as a potential host venue since 2007 and would also benefit from the country’s highly developed, EU-funded infrastructure and relative political stability.

Borrowing from the lessons of Sochi
In their quest to win the right to host the 2022 Games, Ukraine would inevitably draw on the experience of Russia, which is currently investing massively in its Black Sea resort of Sochi, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. From the very outset the Kremlin has treated its 2014 Olympic bid as a massive propaganda exercise and as yet more evidence of the country’s robust post-Soviet resurgence – as well as the Olympics itself, Sochi will host matches during the 2018 Russian World Cup Finals and will also soon be the site of Russia’s first ever Formula One race. It has been on the receiving end of enormous state funding in recent years as it transforms itself from Soviet-era seaside resort into selfstyled Black Sea Riviera – offering a model for ambitious Ukrainian politicians looking to alter the balance of the country’s tourism trade. Plans are currently afoot to develop a huge marina area in Sochi which will no doubt become a magnet for the yachts of billionaire Russian oligarchs and senior state officials, while the Russian city’s Winter Olympic developments themselves will provide it with a year-round tourist trade which could  transform the regional economy. Ukrainian officials are thought to view a potential Lviv Olympics in a similar light as a way of providing the Carpathian Mountains region with a huge tourism boost while also demonstrating the country’s progress to the outside world. The potential windfall for the entire West Ukrainian region remains huge but the task that lies ahead could hardly be greater – as well as mountain ski resorts and Olympic Villages, Lviv would also need to provide a wide range of indoor facilities to host everything from ice hockey to speed skating.

No need to wait until 2022: winter sports in today’s Lviv
Fans of winter sports who are excited by the prospect of a Lviv Winter Olympics need not wait until 2022 before indulging their passion. While existing facilities in and around the city remain far below accepted Olympic standards, there are plenty of winter sports options to entertain enthusiastic amateurs and would-be gold medallists dreaming of success in 2022. Perhaps the most popular winter sports facility in today’s Lviv remains the city’s open air ice rink on Rynok Square. First introduced in 2008, this sociable venue features disco lighting and a powerful sound system which make the skating experience both fun and fashionable. Thanks to its location right in the heart of old Lviv on the city’s picture postcard town square, there are few ice rinks in the world which can offer such an appealing architectural backdrop. The rink operates daily and those with their own skates to enjoy the ice for just UAH 20 prior to 17.00 and UAH 30 afterwards, with prices rising slightly on weekends and over public holidays. If you don’t own your own pair of skates then do not despair as skate rental is available at the rink. This open air ice rink is scheduled to remain open until mid March regardless of prevailing weather conditions so there is plenty of time yet to enjoy this novel and flirtatious sporting option. Lviv’s ‘Medyk’ ice rink (14 Gorbachevskogo Str.) is home to the city’s ice hockey team. This  venerable facility is the oldest rink in the city and is the place to go if you are serious about both classical ice skating and ice hockey. The venue’s role as the home of local ice hockey means that it is not open to the public all day and visitors will have to try and squeeze their skating into the allotted 19.00 to 21.30 daily time frame when the rink is available to all-comers. It is a bigger rink that the open air offering on Rynok Square, but nevertheless can become quite crowded due to the limited time it is open daily to the general public. Weekends are the best bet, with the rink open to the public from 12.30 until 21.00. Admission is UAH 25-35, with skate hire costing an additional UAH 15-25.

A fashionable ice rink for students and socialites
The most fashionable place to skate in today’s Lviv is probably the newly opened ‘Party Ice’ rink located within the Kingcross Leopolis shopping and entertainment complex (30 Striyska Street, Sokilnyky village). This has quickly become a popular haunt among students and school kids attracted by the complex’s superior facilities and funky design. This rink is probably the most comfortable of all Lviv’s existing skating options and it is open daily from 10.00 until 22.00. It is slightly more expensive than other venues – skating access costs UAH 20 – 55 per hour, but the sheer numbers of enthusiastic participants demonstrates that most believe it is well worth it. On the plus side, these prices include skate rental. A 45 minute lesson with a qualified instructor, meanwhile, will cost UAH 40. Meanwhile, fans of ice hockey can also cheer the recent arrival of the region’s new Ice Palace (Tel.:+38032-5640006) a skating rink designed in line with IIHF standards which opened in late 2010 in Novoyavorivsk (a town close to Lviv). This newly constructed, purpose built premises is arguably Ukraine’s finest ice hockey venue and aims to boost the development of the sport in the region. Ukrainian ice hockey has all but collapsed since the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of state funding, but this new facility suggests that West Ukraine’s future ice hockey stars may not have to go abroad in
order to demonstrate their skills.

Skiing in the city
Readers who love to ski but who don’t have the time or inclination to travel into the Carpathians can also enjoy some city skiing this winter in Lviv’s Znesynnya Park (also known locally as Kaizerwald). This recently renovated ski facility is not what many people would call alpine but it offers plenty of fun for beginners and weekenders alike and can also operate well into April thanks to the recent arrival of special snow blower equipment, purchased at a cost of USD 30,000 as part of longterm efforts to boost Lviv’s winter sports options. The 368 metre long ski run in Znesynnya Park is used by the undergraduate students at Lviv’s Dynamo Sports School and so may well be the place to go if you want to catch a glimpse of Ukraine’s future Winter Olympic stars. This role as a training facility means that it is not open to the public all day but would-be city skiers will be able to get on the slopes from 11.00 until 14.00 and from 16.00 until 20.00 daily. However, most of the slope’s facilities, including floodlighting, currently only operate until 17.00, making the evening hours and potentially treacherous option which Lviv Today would only advise for the most expert or fearless of  skiers.