IOC president Jacques Rogge speaks during a one-year countdown celebration for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in Richmond, British Columbia]

RICHMOND, British Columbia, AP, FEBRUARY 14, 2009 (STAR) International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge predicted an “extraordinary and memorable” Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics as the one-year countdown to the games began Thursday.

On behalf of the world’s Olympics committees, the Russian, Canadian, US and British Olympic representatives accepted invitations to Vancouver for the Games. Rogge presented the invitations in Vancouver, the first time it has been outside the Olympic homebase of Lausanne, Switzerland.

“The countdown has begun,” Rogge told a crowd at the new Olympic speedskating oval in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond. “In just one year, the slopes of Whistler, the Pacific Coliseum and Cypress Mountain will be open for Olympic competition.”

Earlier in the day, Rogge unveiled the torches for the Olympic relay across Canada and congratulated the Games organizing committee for its work to this point.

Rogge said everything appears to be on track for the games.

“I have been extremely pleased with the progress of the organization,” Rogge said.

Rogge acknowledged the Olympics have not been immune to the global economic crisis, and said a focus had been on controlling costs.

The Vancouver organizing committee recently dipped into its contingency fund for $40 million to cover rising costs attributed to the slowing economy.

The city also just approved a new budget that will allow it to borrow $350 million or more to take over building the athletes’ village after the original lender stopped payment because of cost overruns and a crashing real estate market.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson recently announced taxpayers are “on the hook” for village costs. (AP)

However Rogge said he’s confident Vancouver can recoup its costs through post-games sales of the village condominiums.

The Vancouver Games have an operating budget of $1.63 billion – a $104 million increase over the original budget that was developed about two years ago.

Games security was originally estimated at $140 million to be split between the provincial and federal governments. The Canadian government has since acknowledged that cost could be as high as $800 million – or 1 billion Canadian dollars.

British Columbia’s finance minister Colin Hansen acknowledged on Monday that the province’s share of security costs will “likely” blow a hole in its total games budget.

Rogge told a news conference that security infrastructure will outlast the 17 days of the games.

When the latest Canadian budget was released on Jan. 27, there were no Olympic security numbers.

Organizing committee CEO John Furlong said the final figures are expected soon, and Rogge had not been briefed on security costs.

Asked about the $1 billion estimate for security, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Peter Van Loan said: “We’ll see what the final number is when it comes in, but it’s not wildly off base.”

“We’re simply trying to come to an arrangement with the province and there will be an announcement when that’s ready.”

The Games have also received criticism over infrastructure projects built to support them, such as a new highway between Vancouver and Whistler, a new rapid transit line and a conference center.

“To describe these long-term capital assets as costs of a two-week event is laughable in the extreme,” Organizing Committe chairman Jack Poole said. (AP)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved