Richmond Oval comes full circle 10 years after the Olympics

From a distance, the Richmond Oval looks like a barn on steroids.

But up close, it stands alone as the jewel in the sport legacies crown of the 2010 Olympics.

Because even though the Oval was built to host the best long-track speed skaters in the world, chances are it will never host them again. 

It's not that Richmond has anything against the sport. Or the skaters. The one-and-done decision was made long before shovels hit the ground at the former RV park where the Oval now sits. 

According to the venue's general manager, the "aha" moment was realizing it made no sense to have a speed skating oval in Richmond competing with the established oval in Calgary, especially knowing athletes would always choose the thinner air and faster times available east of the Rockies.  

"Being at sea level technically put us at a bit of a disadvantage," said Gerry De Cicco. "We decided instead of building a speed skating oval and trying to figure out what to do with it after the fact, we'd do our research first."

Chris Carson/The Associated Press

The vision became that of a building that would satisfy the community's need for more of everything sport and recreation related — rinks, courts, tracks and gyms. Get the it right, and it could serve as an anchor for developing a new neighbourhood of residential high rises on the surrounding lands.  

A decade on from the Games, the area is transformed. Gone are most of the low-rise industrial and commercial buildings that used to dot the landscape. In their place, a dozen glittering new towers.

Hive of activity

At the centre is the Oval, a modern day three-ring circus, but with 30 rings. 

It is common to see a hockey game and skating lessons at one end, an international fencing tournament at the other, and everything imaginable in between: basketball, volleyball, weights, yoga, hitting cage, climbing wall, ping pong tables, badminton, running track, physio.

It's a multi-use facility with the emphasis on the multi. 

"Richmond folks had a vision of not only what this building could do for sport, but more: How it could change the whole area of the city," said Tim Gayda, vice-president of sport for the Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee.

"I think in terms of an Olympic legacy, it's pretty important."

Sports and love

In 2019 the Richmond Oval counted 1.1 million visitors. Its Olympic roots remain strong with half a dozen high-performance organizations, and many more elite athletes, calling the place home — including those with Volleyball Canada, Softball Canada, Wheelchair Rugby Canada and Climbing Canada. (Climbing debuts as an Olympic sport this summer.)

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Lesser known is how the Oval has become an incubator for matrimony. 

"We tend to be a favourite spot for wedding proposals," laughed De Cicco. "And we've actually had the odd wedding in here."

Canadian skaters felt the love in 2010, winning five medals on Oval ice, two of them gold.

De Cicco says the building could still hold long-track events, but given its popularity and place in the community, it would take something as major as Vancouver hosting a second Olympic Games to make it happen. 

"The ice plant now runs two Olympic-sized ice sheets and all of the lines for the 400 metre track still exist underneath the portable flooring," he said. "But if you're asking me what the odds of hosting long track again might be, I would say unlikely." 

Karin Larsen/CBC