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From the Olympics Toward Tomorrow
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Shinano Mainichi
Shinano Mainichi

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From the Olympics Toward Tomorrow


On the making of a city

Sport culture

    What's to become of local skating rinks?

The "Crazy Ducks" were organized in September 1995. Sponsors of youth ice hockey in Nagano City say their goal is to create parent-child teams in order to simply have fun-- adults together with children. Kiyoharu Sato (age 46), a Nagano City business owner who manages the league says, "It would be pretty boring to stand around at practice in the cold. So, we decided to play at local rinks."

Most of the players are new to the sport, but in January they invited a parent-child team from Chiba Prefecture and had their first inter-league game. Sato says, "Parents and their children end up having conversations on the same subjects. I think through these kind of activities the kids will end up being good kids until they 'leave the nest.'"

Members of the "Crazy Ducks" talk during a break in practice. How will the Olympics raise our awareness of winter sport culture? (photo taken at the Olympic venue "Big Hat")

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The number of ice hockey enthusiasts has been increasing recently due to the draw of the Olympics. When Nagano was picked in 1986 as "Japan's Choice" for the Winter Games, there were six teams in Nagano City. Now, eleven years later, there are 24.

However, the amount of practice time has fallen inversely. This season allows for on average only one and a half hours of practice a week per team. Furthermore, it is likely that after the Games it will be even more difficult to find places to practice, due to the fact that possibly half of the city's rinks may close, deepening enthusiast's concerns.

This season, with the Olympics just one year away, the league is able to use two rinks, the Olympic Ice Hockey "A" venue "Big Hat" and the privately run Nagano Skate Center. But after the Olympics the City plans on using "Big Hat" as a multipurpose events hall and will not lay ice. Also, there is a strong possibility that Nagano Skate Center may close after the Games are finished. Because competition with the speed-skating venue "M-Wave" will be difficult, manager Makoto Hirabayashi says, "We haven't reached a final decision, but it will be tough to operate after the Olympics."

Organizers for the annual Winter National Athletic Meet, planning an invitational competition one year after the Olympics, has decided not to hold the tournament at an Olympic venue, but to break up into groups at Karuizawa Town, Kitasaku-gun.

The Nagano City Olympic Facility Usage Promotional Office has expressed that practice could be held on a 30m x 60m rink inside the 400m speed-skating track at "M-Wave." But the Nagano City Ice Hockey Association points out that "during speed-skating events, the hockey rink fences would have to be taken down, ruling out any sort of practice."

The Ice Hockey Association put together a four-page color pamphlet to promote an idea to "hold national and international events in Olympic facilities" after the Games come to a close. They published information on Japan League games and figures on the number of participating athlete's and possible spectators, as well as the number of available hotel rooms in the area. The pamphlet concentrates on the effects of keeping rinks open, pushing the idea that "holding post-Olympic tournaments can also contribute to the regional economy."

Association Vice-Director Shin Nakamura (age 44) says, "We realize that operating expenses for rinks are high. We can't simply ask to keep them open. We must help them understand the big picture."

Approximately 20,000 spectators came to see the five-day Olympic Ice Hockey test event "Nagano Cup Tournament '96." Every day the number of attendees increased. But Sato complains, "The Sapporo Olympics built ice hockey facilities and a ski jump in the midst of city residents and used them wisely. Saying that simply by hosting the Olympics Nagano will also have a growing playing field for winter sports is not necessarily correct. We need to use them wisely as well."

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There is enough space to lay two ice hockey rinks inside the 400m speed skating tack at "M-Wave." The figure skating and short track speed skating venue "White Ring" will be used as a city gymnasium after the Games, but the rink refrigeration pipes will remain.

NAOC estimates that the cost of leasing and operating refrigeration equipment in order to keep ice would come to about 100 million yen per season. But in the new fiscal year budget bill for Nagano City, post-Olympic use operating expenses for the six venues was revised downward from a previous total of 1.98 billion to around 1.5 or 1.6 billion yen. It appears that there is some room to revise costs for laying ice and other expenses.

"Efficiency" was regarded as the most important factor by the City Post-Olympic Management Steering Committee. City meetings held to discuss post-Olympic use options during the planning stages of facility construction also focused on efficiency. The problem was that the fundamental idea of "sport" was left by the wayside.

However, due to thorough investigation into post-Olympic operating expenses and the increase in hockey teams, the situation is changing. As a city which declared itself as a "City of Sport," Nagano ought to do all it can to promote the joining of sport with its citizen's culture.

(originally run March 5, 1997)

No part of the article, photographs, or illustrations presented here may be printed or used without permission.

Copyright 1999 The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun