Wintry Sweden Welcomes IOC

(ATR) After a visit to the snowy mountain venues, IOC inspectors will be in Stockholm Wednesday,

(ATR) The snow-filled winter resort of Årewas the setting for the first day of the IOC Evaluation Commission inspection of the 2026 Olympic bid from Stockholm.At 63 degrees north latitude, Are is about an hour from Stockholm by plane.

The Swedish bid is the first of the two candidates for 2026 to host the IOC commission. Milan is scheduled for April 1 to 6. Each visit will span six days.

Åre Mayor Daniel Danielsson and Regional Governor Göran Hägglund welcomed the IOC team and media on a frosty morning outside Hotel Åregarden. Both expressed support of the bid, suggesting that a Swedish victory could inspire young hockey players to shoot for the 2026 Games.

IOC member Octavian Morariu chairs the Evaluation Team. It's a new role and responsibility for the former Romanian NOC president.

"It’s indeed an interesting mission and not only for me, but also for the IOC because we have these two competitive bids," Morariu said.

The inspection is about "venues, transportation and accommodations", but ultimately "sustainability and legacy" are the most important elements, he continued.

"I’m very confident this commission will deliver the best possible report for the IOC," he said.

Stockholm–Are 2026 CEO Richard Brisius leads the Swedish team working to impress the 13 member IOC commission. In addition to Morariu, members include Kristin Kloster Aasen of Norway, Hong Zhang of China and Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi.

"For us, this is just another great step in this new process of Agenda 2020, with the dialogue stage, the candidature stage, so we get a lot out of meeting and spending time with the IOC," Brisius tells Around the Rings.

"I hope the outcome of this visit will be an even sharper and better bid for the 2026 Olympics."

Tuesday afternoon, the evaluation group took Are’s VM 8 chairlift to 1,480 meters for a media photo opp.

The wind whipped over the snowy mountain, hard enough to close theadjacentGondolen and Kabinbanen lifts to the 2,900-meter Åre summit.. Afternoon temperatures on the mountain hovered around minus 10 Celsius, but felt substantially colder with the blustery winds, exceeding 25 kph.

Nearby, junior ski racers trained and battled the difficult conditions on the giant slalom track. Last month the slope hosted the world’s top male and female World Cup ski racers at the FIS Alpine Ski World Championships.

The evaluation team also visited the proposed site for freestyle skiing and snowboard events, about eight kilometers down the road from Åre, in nearby Duved.

Swedish IOC member GunillaLindberg -- most recently the chair of the coordination commission for PyeongChang 2018 -- said "it’s a really strange feeling to be on the other side."

"It’s very exciting and I really believe in this bid and I think we have fantastic concept having never hosted the Winter Games," Lindberg tells ATR.

"Supporting our bid is really important and I really want this," she said. "After having done 25 Olympic Games in other countries, I’d like to have the Games here."

Brisius said he believes the timing is right for Sweden, with Olympic Agenda 2020 and the New Norm allowing for new possibilities, such as cost saving measures like bobsleigh and luge events being held in Sigulda, Latvia.

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Brisius, who is also president of the Volvo Ocean Race, said his country’s longstanding passion for winter sport cannot be underestimated.

"We really have this passion for hosting winter sports competitions for many, many years and we have this dream to host the Winter Olympics for even longer than I can remember, and my parents and grandparents," Brisius said.

"For Sweden, it is very important because it will bring Sweden together, and it will put total focus on sustainability in all aspects - economical, social and environmental, not only for Sweden, but for the whole world.

"We can hope we can inspire beyond our borders for many, many years beyond 2026."

The IOC commission visit to Åre was a short one. The team hopped on a 50-minute flight to Stockholm on Tuesday night as the five-day inspection continues on Wednesday with a visit to the Swedish capital’s 1912 Olympic Stadium.

The commission will wrap up on March 16.

Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Åre.

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