Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


In 1988 Calgary, Alberta, welcomed the winter sport athletes of the world by hosting the XV Winter Olympic Games. For sixteen days in February, 2,300 athletes and team officials from fifty-seven countries participated in ten medal sports, one demonstration sport (curling), two demonstration events (freestyle skiing and short track speed skating), and one exhibition event (disabled skiing). Approximately 4,900 members of the media covered the events. Great Olympic champions like Katarina Witt and Raisa Smetanina shared the limelight with more eccentric competitors such as British ski jumper Michael Edwards ("Eddie the Eagle") and the Jamaican bobsled team.

The games cost $700 million (Canadian), about half of which funded the building of new sports facilities. Revenues totaled about $850 million, about 50 percent from the federal, provincial, and municipal governments, 35 percent from the ABC television contract, and the remaining 15 percent from marketing, licensing, and ticket sales. The financial legacies from the games have never been equaled by any other winter or summer games. The approximately $150 million left in the bank in 1988 had grown to about $280 million by 1998 and along the way had also provided about $30 million from earned interest to finance the operation of the various sport facilities and to support athletes.

The first indoor 400-meter speed-skating oval, a new physical education complex, and new residences (the Athletes' Village) were built at the university. Bobsled, luge, skijumping facilities, and a museum were built at Canada Olympic Park on the western edge of the city. A new alpine ski area was developed in the Kananaskis Valley, and a new Nordic Center was built at Canmore. A 19,000-seat arena, the Saddledome, was built for hockey and figure skating. Ten thousand volunteers were utilized at the time of the games, and 20,000 had been involved since the games were awarded in 1981 at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Congress in Baden Baden, Germany.

To this day, these games are still considered by the IOC as truly exceptional, perhaps the finest games ever held, winter or summer. For a Prairie cow town of 640,000 residents, nestled close to the Rocky Mountains, such accolades may at first be surprising. The reasons for this success were the superb organization, the extensive continuing benefits, and, most significantly, the attitude of the people of Alberta. It was their warm welcome, their enthusiasm to host the visitors, their willingness to make the extra effort to ensure that strangers were well taken care of that made a positive impression. Local residents explain that this is the natural way Prairie communities have collaborated for the past 150 years. There seems to be an innate need to welcome strangers, particularly those from the big cities. Alberta is comprised of people from all parts of the world who still maintain cultural traditions from their countries of origin. Therefore, the Belgian-born chocolate maker in Calgary became the assistant to the Belgian team, and the Austrian Club of Calgary hosted the Austrian team and families every evening at its club.

Calgary always has been a sports-minded community, active for more than a century with curling, hockey, skating, baseball, and many other sports and having competitions from the earliest days with its Prairie neighbors. It is known internationally as the home of the Calgary Stampede rodeo. Today, the city is also known throughout the world as the host of the superb Calgary Winter Olympic Games.

See also CITIES AND TOWNS: Calgary, Alberta.

Roger Jackson University of Calgary

Findling, John E., and Kimberly D. Pelle. Historical Dictionary of the Modern Olympic Movement. Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.

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