The 2010 Winter Olympics are moving from ideas to reality.

Over the next two years many of the carefully laid plans for the 2010 Games will be tested as World Cup events and other competitions are held in the venues where athletes will compete for Olympic medals.

"There's a massive shift in the project coming,'' John Furlong, chief executive officer for the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee, said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. "We're going operational. We're moving off the drawing board.

"We have been practising for a while, we have been planning. Now we're launching into initiatives. We are organizing ourselves to deal with whatever comes our way.''

The two-year countdown officially begins Tuesday as the opening ceremony for the Vancouver Games is set for Feb. 12, 2010.

Most of the work on the $580 million worth of Olympic venues has been completed. Some facilities have already hosted competitions and others will be tested before next spring.

Canadian athletes say having early access to the hills, jumps and rinks enhances their chances of standing on the podium 24 months from now. The Canadian Olympic Committee is aiming to finish atop the medal standings in 2010.

"When I visualize my Olympic Games, I will have more information as what to expect,'' said freestyle skier Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau of Drummondville, Que.

Tire-kicking the venues as tickets go on sale

Furlong predicts there will be challenges and unforeseen problems at some venues. He'd rather iron out the kinks now, not when the eyes of the world are watching.

"The best thing that can happen to our team from now until the spring of next year is to get knocked down a bit, bruised a little, have a few problems to deal with,'' he said. "We are going to be sparring for a while with these venues and with our projects to get good so that on the big day we can perform.''

While athletes get to kick the tires on the venues, organizers hope to start raising excitement about the Games among the Canadian public by recruiting volunteers, putting Olympic tickets on sale and announcing the route for the torch relay.

VANOC plans to talk with local business about rearranging their hours so employees can either volunteer or attend events. The strategy for moving athletes and fans around the city, while allowing citizens to carry on with their lives, will also be unveiled.

"It will be the largest transportation planning exercise ever undertaken in Canada,'' said Furlong. "We have to do that flawless.''

The Olympics will be held in Vancouver and Whistler, 120 kilometres to the north, from Feb. 12 to Feb. 28. The Paralympic Games will follow from March 12 to 21.

Major construction on the $252.2-million facilities at Whistler have been completed. The first bobsled has already tested the $104.9-million sliding centre, which will also be the site of luge and skeleton. A ski jump competition has been held at the $119.7-million Whistler Olympic Park, which will also host cross-country skiing, biathlon and nordic combined.

Later this month the first World Cup ski event will be held on the Creekside ski hill which has seen $27 million in upgrades.

The final sports venues in Vancouver -- the $63-million speedskating oval in suburban Richmond, B.C., a $38-million hockey rink at the University of British Columbia, and the $40-million curling arena in a residential neighbourhood -- are all expected to be completed by this fall.

Other sports to be held in Vancouver include figure skating and short-track speedskating at the Pacific Coliseum, hockey at GM Place -- home of the NHL's Canucks -- and snowboard and freestyle skiing at Cypress Mountain on the city's North Shore.

Work on the athletes villages in Vancouver and Whistler is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2009.

Looking into the future

But the city isn't buzzing with excitement about the Games yet. In the coffee shops and pubs around Vancouver the Games generate little talk. The struggles of the Canucks and the city's soaring housing prices are of more concern.

Marie Palmiano said her friends wonder what happens after the Games are over.

"I'm kind of skeptical about the Olympics,'' Palmiano said as she sipped a coffee. "We're going to be 25 or 26 and it's going to be interesting to see how that affects us trying to find jobs, trying to find housing.''

A major sore point for the businesses along Cambie Street is the revenue they have lost due to transit line construction.

VANOC likes to say it is operating within budget but that depends on which budget.

The original Games bid book said the venues would be built for $470 million, with the costs shared by the federal and B.C. provincial governments. That figure was based on 2003 dollars, but soaring construction costs in B.C. forced VANOC to seek another $110 million from Ottawa and Victoria.

The operational budget for the Games is $1.7 billion, with that money coming from sponsorship, TV revenues, ticket and souvenir sales. Add in the price of the venues and the Games cost more than $2 billion.

Critics argue the real bill is closer to $6 billion.

Security remains a thorny issue. Some $175 million has been budgeted for security with the majority of the costs being covered by the RCMP and the federal government. The security budget for the 2006 Olympics in Turin was $290 million while US$310 was spent on security for the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. The tab for Vancouver's convention centre, site of the broadcast facility, has risen to more than $800 million from the original $500 million. The B.C. government is spending $775 million to upgrade the highway that links Vancouver to Whistler. Another $2 billion is being spent to build a transit line between the airport and Vancouver's downtown.

Chris Shaw of the anti-Games group 2010 Watch said the cash being poured into the Olympics could help solve problems like homelessness and drug addiction, especially in Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside.

"Those things will be here after the Games have come and gone,'' said Shaw. "At the end of it there will be bills to pay and higher taxes and the financial hangover.''

Harry Bains, the provincial NDP Games critic, said VANOC and the B.C. Liberal government haven't been honest in discussing costs.

"The only way we can define what the benefits and the legacies left behind after the Games is if we know what the real cost is,'' said Bains. "So far, we are not seeing that.''

Furlong said making all Canadians feel part of the Olympics is a VANOC goal.

"If the Games are going to be very good, you can leave it to us,'' he said. "If they are going to be spectacularly great, it involves everybody. We need everybody that can do something to be part of this.''