At the mouth of Fraser River and the south edge of Vancouver, sits the town of Richmond, population 188,000. On Friday, Dec. 12, its Olympic Oval officially opens, 14 months before the world’s best speed skaters come to town for the big show.

Inside this environmentally state-of-the-art facility is a 400-metre speed skating track. The Oval will host long-track events during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. It will be a house of energy in one of the most thrilling Olympic sports — and one for which Canada has a large handful of medal hopefuls.

One word to describe the Olympic Oval is green. It has been constructed to meet silver certification by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Scale (LEED). This system recognizes buildings that are energy efficient, whose indoor environment is quality, and which takes a minimal toll on the environment.

From an ice surface the size of six international hockey rinks, the heat energy that is transferred out of the water will be used as much as possible elsewhere in the Oval. Rain that falls on the roof will be caught, collected and used to help flush toilets and fill a pond outside the facility. Wood panels in the ceiling are carved from salvaged pine trees affected by B.C.’s pine beetle infestation. The roof, at 100×200 metres, may be the largest surface ever fashioned with discarded wood. And trees cut to make way for the Oval were used in the facility’s construction. Efforts were made to preserve trees in the area, recycle construction material and use non-toxic building materials.

The Oval can seat 8,000 spectators. In 2010, up to 36 Olympic medals will be awarded to speed skaters. Judging from past Games, several of those will be hung from the necks of Canadians. At the last Olympic Winter Games in 2006, Canadians captured eight long-track medals. This is the sport that provided one of the more dramatic storylines in Turin: Cindy Klassen’s remarkable five medals.

And thus far on the 2008-09 World Cup circuit, there are good tidings for the team. Kristina Groves, Shannon Rempel, Christine Nesbitt and Brittany Schussler lead the women with 16 medals in the first four World Cup events. All that is without Klassen, who has decided to rest this season and recover from an injury.

To test its operational readiness, the Vancouver Organizing Committee will be hosting the official sport event for the Richmond Olympic Oval from March 12-15, 2009. For information on the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships, visit: www.speedskatingrichmond2009.com.