New Utah Olympic Park water ramps open in style
Project Big Air reaches completion at UOP
World champion aerialist Mac Bohonnon took the first official jump off the new water ramps at the Spence Eccles Olympic Freestyle Pool on Saturday night, the culmination of the completion of Project Big Air at the Utah Olympic Park.
After a flyover by a pair of planes, fireworks and speeches from United States Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Tiger Shaw, philanthropist Spencer F. “Spence” Eccles and others involved with the project, Bohonnon got the show started in style with a soaring jump off the new aerial triple ramp.
Following Bohonnon’s initial leap, the Flying Ace All-Stars performed a high-octane show, utilizing all seven of the UOP’s new ramps in front of a large crowd gathered around the pool for the grand opening celebration.
Originally built in 1993, the old water ramps were due for an upgrade, so Eccles and his family issued a $1 million challenge grant, where the Eccles family would match every dollar donated to Project Big Air up to $1 million in a quest to raise $3 million in total for the project. Addressing the crowd on Saturday night, Eccles said it was a no-brainer for him to do what he could to help Project Big Air succeed.
“In the big picture, it was the ongoing Eccles family’s loving commitment to all of the state of Utah — to help improve the quality of life of all Utahns,” he said. “More specifically, it’s simply that this project was so needed now. Plainly, I really believe in this project.
It was clear we had to raise the money fast and build the expansion quickly so as not to miss much valuable training time for our athletes. And we did.”
Eccles said he was impressed with the finished product on display Saturday night.
“It’s overwhelming to think of what was there and what’s there now,” he said. “It’s the only one in the world like it. All this can only happen where? In Park City, through the community support bringing worldwide attention to the commitment and success in maintaining our Olympic Legacy venues for future Olympic Games.”
“This community, the entire Utah sports community, rallied behind this facility with over 250 donors,” Shaw added.
Shaw said the new ramps will provide wonderful training opportunities, both for the national team athletes and children and newcomers to the freestyle sports.
“This improved venue will not only allow our athletes to be the best in the world, but also provide opportunities to Utah boys and girls to chase their Olympic dreams while having a ton of fun doing so,” he said.
Kiley McKinnon, the reigning women’s aerials world champion, was sidelined with an ankle injury for Saturday night’s festivities, but said she’s heard nothing but great things from her teammates who began training on the ramps last week.
“These jumps are amazing,” she said. “It’s insane just looking at them — I can’t even comprehend how awesome they are. Everyone that’s jumped has said it’s awesome. The double and triple are amazing — better than any double or triple we’ve ever hit before.”
With the aerials team, and many other U.S. freestyle teams, looking to build on recent success, McKinnon said having these new ramps open early in the 2018 Olympic cycle is a big deal.
“For our sport to have new jumps that are perfect is really important for us,” she said. “We have a new double and triple that are going to make our training so much better — it’s really exciting. Being able to upgrade this is really important for everyone, but especially for the aerialists to show that we’re still here and we’re still trying to progress our sport. Being able to have this in the middle of an Olympic cycle is really awesome because our training is going to be better than ever.”
Though McKinnon was disappointed to have to sit out the grand opening’s Flying Ace show, she said she’s eager to get back to training and join the shows later in the summer season.
“I’m just waiting,” she said. “Hopefully, when I get back to jumping, I’ll be jumping with the Flying Ace All-Stars again.”
Near the end of his speech, Eccles recalled being part of the 2002 Olympic bidding process and told the crowd, to a chorus of cheers, that the new water ramps could prove to be a critical part in developing U.S. athletes who will be competing at the top levels of the sport if Utah is awarded the 2026 or 2030 Winter Games.
“We promised, if we were to get the  Games, we’d build a legacy facility that would continue to be successfully maintained for many years after the Olympics,” he said. “It would be used for training our U.S. teams and young athletes. Equally important, the facilities would be available for our Utah youngsters. When you see the 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds from Utah today learning here and training here, you can just imagine that, in 15 short years, many of them just may be on our U.S. national teams. That would be something very special.”