Decision 2026: A vision of what we can be.

The decision is upon us. It is now up to Calgarians to decide: do we want to remain in the race for 2026?

Calgary is at a crossroads. The Games of 1988 seem a distant memory. The decision facing our city should be evaluated carefully, understanding not only the bricks and mortar of venues, but perhaps more important – the human resources we have built in our city and region – and where do we see our city and ourselves as citizens headed?

calgaryIt comes as no surprise that Calgarians take this decision seriously. The details presented have been carefully considered. Many harbour concerns about the risk, or are nervous about the economy or question if we are setting our priorities correctly.

We should be challenging our leaders and asking tough questions. A thorough debate and engaged population makes for a stronger community.

The past five years have been tough on our community. We are reminded, daily, of the challenge to get the primary products of the Alberta economy to market.

Now, we have a project that can bring investment into our infrastructure, bolster the markets of tourism and sport, galvanize the spirit of youth, motivate current and aspiring athletes and inspire a nation – and the rest of Canada is cheering us to “go for it”.

It is frustrating to hear the claim about how short term the Games are. As someone who lives on the snow in wintersport, I see throughout the winter how active and widespread winter sport is in Calgary, Canmore and our region. A project like the Games is much more than 50 days in 2026.

Reflect and see what we have built.

Events: Since 1988, Calgary has established a sterling reputation as a host of annual World Cup events in speed skating (long and short), bobsleigh, luge, skeleton, alpine ski, cross country, biathlon, freestyle, ski cross, snowboard – 12 World Cup events every year pass through our region.

KarenPercyVenues: The investment into the sport venues is to refurbish. These venues are not derelict. Our community actively use them throughout the winter, from recreational participants to developing athletes to our best who aim to compete at the highest levels.

The Canadian Alpine Ski Team is currently training at Nakiska, preparing for the first downhill of the World Cup season. Our speed skaters just competed in the Short Track World Cup at the Olympic Oval, which is also a vibrant venue at the University of Calgary. December finds World Cup events on the sliding track at COP and come January, attention turns to the Freestyle World Cup, staged on one of the best mogul runs in the world. This year will see the return of the Biathlon World Cup to the Canmore Nordic Centre.

The continuous use of our 1988 sport venues has ensured they meet current international sport standards. Winning a Games bid ensures these venues are revitalized to remain current for the next 40 years.

Athletes: A successful bid turns the World Cup events into test events for the Games. They bring training opportunities, tourism impact and chance to give our current National Team athletes a “home court” advantage. And it inspires the future – young athletes who have access to world-class facilities – to dream of representing their country at the highest levels.

Our success internationally, where Canada hits well above our weight in results in World Cups, World Championships and the Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games is a direct legacy of 1988. The pathway to success has been built through Calgary.

History: In 1980, in the heat of the bidding battle for the 1988 Games, Calgary was offered the opportunity to host the final World Cup ski race, which had been cancelled earlier in the season. A bold group, inspired by Frank King and led by a small but keen group in the ski community, said “why not us?” With no race committee, no safety equipment, no sponsor, no TV –they boldly accepted this challenge with only 4 weeks to organize the event. Lake Louise now ranks second in the world for number of World Cup races staged.

Volunteers: One of the many volunteers for the 1980 race was Rob Imbrogno, who brought his skill set from Telus (then AGT) to set up the communications network. That inaugural World Cup downhill started a thirty-nine year journey. Rob has volunteered for every FIS Alpine Ski World Cup in Alberta, worked both 1988 and 2010 Games and also volunteered overseas at World Ski Championships. Rob, does not own a pair of skis. Rob does not ski. But he is passionately committed to imparting his knowledge and leadership skills to run great World Cup races and giving Canadian athletes the best possible opportunity to race at home.

There are hundreds volunteers just like Rob who have faithfully supported our athletes and events as officials, gate keepers, starters, timers, race area maintenance, the essential army of volunteers that make our annual World Cup events such a success. This dedicated crew emerged as we hosted the pre-Games test events before 1988. They were the backbone of the ‘88 Games and have continued to be the core of our event organizing committees since. We now need a knowledge transfer to a new generation of volunteers who would run the Games of 2026 and 30 years beyond.

Employment: We can debate economic impact, but there is no arguing with the jobs based in Calgary with the National Sport Organizations and Canadian Sport Institute which include sport administrators, athletic trainers, physiotherapists, sport physicians, sport psychologists, coaches, nutritionists and more. It is a fact that the 12 annual World Cup events staged in our region have international TV audiences that number into the hundreds of millions of viewers and a ripple economic impact with investment of sponsor dollars which come mostly from Europe.

openingInnovative Ideas: Thanks to our latitude and our climate, winter comes earlier to the Canadian Rockies. Every year, for 30 seasons, Nakiska has hosted Canadians and many other National Teams to train – at a time where only a handful of ski resorts worldwide are even open.

Ever heard of “Frozen Thunder”? This is an innovative project of the Canmore Nordic Centre, WinSport and Cross Country Canada/Biathlon Canada, which stores man-made snow over the summer months, covered by sawdust’ to be spread over a 3-km. track for Canada’s cross country and biathlon teams to start early season training and has evolved to hosting season-opening international competitions.

fullsizeoutput_40fHow much we have changed: I grew up in Calgary. I know what was here as I moved through the athletic pathway to our National Ski Team. It was sparse: my dryland was mostly on the grass of the University of Calgary and wherever I could find a weight room. On-snow, there were no dedicated runs, so we traveled to Europe in the early season every winter. That 1980 World Cup race was my first downhill ever – in Canada, in my seventh year with the National Team.

Now, in addition to the annual World Cup events, eight National Sport Organizations are now headquartered in Calgary and Canmore. The Canadian Sport Institute – Calgary trains most of Canada’s winter athletes. We have the world-renowned Human Performance Lab based at the University of Calgary. Own the Podium winter office is based at WinSport. This is a thriving sport industry that did not exist in Calgary in 1988.

Leadership in Tourism: Some argue we don’t need to revisit our past glory. That we have the Calgary Stampede and the line-up of World Cup events will continue. So why take the risk?

But ask the Calgary Stampede why they partner with the World Cup races at Lake Louise and have already endorsed the 2026 Games Bid. The leadership of our widely respected summer festival knows partnering with winter events with a large international following and that share similar values and tourism markets is how to build a brand and a reputation.

It’s good for business, it’s good for tourism, it’s good for Calgary and it is exceptionally good for our community spirit.

The distemper of our times is to distrust politicians and international elites. If we look closely enough, we will always find shadows in any project or initiative.

Pride in what we have done to change the world, a vision of what we can be: I prefer to see our community positively, to think of Calgary and Canmore as leaders in our global community. To continue to build on the enormously positive example our city and region launched to the world 30 years ago. In 1988, we changed the Winter Games, forever and we can do it again in 2026. We can be pro-active and challenge the status quo. We can set an example through our integrity, hard work, spirit and innovative ideas. We can set the bar high and work relentlessly for clean sport, sustainable Games, accountability in sport and to be athlete-focused.

I hope we see this as a choice for the future. To be leaders in sport and in our global community, where we can influence change.

We can, but only if we stay in the competition to host 2026.

Only if we vote YES for 2026.

 

About Ken Read

"You're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way!" - Oh, the Places You'll Go (1990) Dr. Seuss
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