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    Beach may host Olympic events

    The group organizing Central Florida's bid announces that sailing and beach volleyball would be held at Clearwater Beach.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 2, 2000

    [Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
    Ward Hemond, 36, sails off the Dunedin Causeway on Wednesday afternoon.
    CLEARWATER -- Florida 2012 Olympics organizers announced Wednesday that they want to hold beach volleyball and sailing events on the city's beaches, giving Clearwater's tourist areas international exposure if Central Florida is chosen to host the games.

    "Not only are we Florida's beach, but we will soon become the world's beach," Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel declared, after colorful renderings of the proposed events were unveiled at a news conference at the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort.

    Ed Turanchik, president and chief executive of Florida 2012, said that Olympics organizers would finance construction of the venues, although Clearwater would be asked to provide some special events services, like police for crowd control.

    The beach volleyball venue would consist of one 15,000-seat "center court" stadium, as well as a separate 2,000-seat second court for preliminary matches. The two venues would flank both sides of the city's Pier 60 plaza, with the major stadium just to the south.

    The venue would cost a minimum of $2.5-million, by rough estimates, and be torn down after the games. The nearby Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort would be the "international federation" hotel for volleyball event organizers.

    Sailing events would be held on both sides of the north end of the county's Sand Key Park, with several courses for large boats in the Gulf of Mexico and wind-surfing and small sailboat competitions in Clearwater Harbor. About 10,000 spectators would be accommodated in stands at the edge of the park and on boats floating near the course, and docks would be built for competing sailboats.

    If the county desires to keep portions of the venue after the games, Olympics organizers would ask the county to share some of the construction costs. No figures were available Wednesday for how much the venue would cost.

    The Sheraton Sand Key Resort would be the official hotel for sailing officials. Teams would compete in 11 events on courses that range from 5 to 7 miles and take an hour to finish.

    Clearwater city commissioners will be asked to approve an agreement with the Olympics committee supporting the 2012 endeavor later this year, and they are enthusiastic about wooing the world here.

    "You are one of our big stars," Turanchik told Clearwater officials Wednesday, "and we're absolutely excited about it."

    But overall, the briefing revealed that Clearwater has snared only a small share of the events in the games, compared with events already announced to take place in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Orlando.

    "I've bent his ear (asking) if we could do more, but we don't have venues like Tropicana Field in Clearwater," Mayor Brian Aungst said of Turanchik.

    Aungst said that there is still a chance a new Philadelphia Phillies spring training complex, once built, could host some Olympic baseball events. But that's the extent of sports events here, he said. Other opportunities for the city would be in hosting tourists drawn to the Olympics and perhaps providing training facilities for athletes, he said.

    Sailing and beach volleyball were natural choices for Clearwater to host, said Jose Rodriguez, the managing director of Florida 2012. Clearwater Beach is already the likely spot for a new national volleyball tour to come with world-class competitors from 2001 through 2003, Rodriguez said. And in late November, Florida 2012 will help put on a world championship women's match race sailing event in St. Petersburg.

    At the beginning of Wednesday's news conference, Aungst and other city officials participated in a short beach volleyball game with Olympics organizers. (Thanks to Commissioner Ed Hooper's serves, the city slammed them, 10-4.)

    "Ed Turanchik has guaranteed us one thing, that the competition in 2012 will be a lot better than you witnessed here today," Bob Walter, manager of the Hilton resort, joked afterward.

    Turanchik said that over the next month, Florida 2012 will continue unveiling additional venues, like the location of the Olympic stadium and Olympic village. The group also will roll out a transportation system using buses and light rail to haul Olympic spectators around Central Florida.

    Florida Olympic organizers will then submit the full details of their proposal -- like how much it's going to cost -- to the U.S. Olympic Committee by Dec. 15.

    The USOC will choose one of eight regions in 2002 as the United States' candidate to host the 2012 games. Then that area will compete with international locales, with the winning city announced in 2005.

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