SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is certainly on the map for winter Olympic athletes, and the state has the facilities to host three different Olympic trials this weekend. The fact that these facilities are still in use is no small feat, Olympic experts say.
Utahns have always loved snow sports, and after hosting the 2002 Winter Olympic Games many fell for ice sports as well.
"In the mid-‘90s, there was all of three ice rinks in all of Utah; there are 17 today," said Colin Hilton, CEO of Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation.
That figure includes the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns. It was built for the 2002 games, but the ice rink still gets a lot of use today — from public skating to Olympic training.
To have an Olympic facility still in use over a decade after it was showcased to the world is something Hilton called "a rare feat." In fact, he said every single 2002 venue in Utah is still used.
This weekend and next, the Kearns Oval is hosting the U.S. Olympic speedskating trials. In Park City, the ski jumps and the Nordic Combined Track are also hosting U.S. Olympic trials.
"We're one of the few cities that, 12 years after our games, I can proudly say (our Olympic facilities) are busier than we were before the games," Hilton said.
He attributes that to a long-term plan to use the facilities — a plan that was put in place even before they were built.
London has a similar plan to use its Olympic venues built for the 2012 Summer Games, but it remains to be seen how successful they are.
The Bird's Nest, which was China's centerpiece during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, hardly gets any significant use now. Only the Water Cube, which hosted swimming events in 2008, gets regular use after being turned into a water park.
In addition to regular recreational use, Utah's Olympic facilities even help breed the next generation of U.S. Olympians.
We're one of the few cities that, 12 years after our games, I can proudly say (our Olympic facilities) are busier than we were before the games.
–Colin Hilton, Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation
Abby Hughes is a ski jumper on the U.S. ski team hoping to make the Sochi Olympics is 2014. It helps that she was born and raised in Park City, with world-class facilities in her backyard.
"I'm really fortunate my parents chose to come here from Pennsylvania," Hughes said. "And being raised in Park City, I couldn't ask for anything else."
Hughes will compete in the women's ski jumping finals Sunday. The event will be broadcast live on KSL channel 5 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Of course, not only can you see the athletes competing for a spot on the Olympic team, you can also see the facilities they are using and be proud those facilities are still doing quite well.