Is Calgary's Olympic past still a legacy, or just history?

Does the closure of the bobsled track mark the end of an era? The Eyeopener's Unconventional Panel weighs in on Calgary's Olympic legacy.

CBC's Unconventional Panel weighs in on whether bobsled track closure marks end of an era

WinSport closed the bobsled track March 3, citing an $8-million funding shortfall. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

In the wake of Canada Olympic Park's shuttering of the ski jump and now the bobsled track due to a funding shortfall, Calgarians are left wondering: what's next?

The Unconventional Panel — Anila Lee Yuen, CEO of the Centre for Newcomers; George Brookman, CEO of West Canadian Digital Imaging; and Jim Rudser, assistant manager for Kal Tire, Deerfoot Meadows — weighed in on the Calgary Eyeopener

"I feel sad that some of the kind of iconic structures are no longer going to be here with us. Because I grew up there, and was there at the Olympics, and was there at the ski jump — and that made me very sad," said Lee Yuen.

"But I think that just like everything else in life, there's an opportunity to evolve and an opportunity to see how we could be a little bit more cost effective and be able to bring new generations to remember our legacy that maybe weren't even alive at the time."

But without the facilities, is it more of a history than a legacy?

"When you're walking down the Plus-15 on your way to the Saddledome, you have all the pictures, mosaics on the side of the famous medals imprinted on the big Plexiglass walls," said Jim Rudser. " It's really sad that the city might be losing a hint of of its heritage."

George Brookman, CEO of West Canadian Digital Imaging, remains optimistic.

Calgary is 'a city that does things'

"The legacy is not dead — I think we will have the Olympics again," Brookman said.

"This is an Olympic city. It will always be an Olympic city. We will have the Winter Olympics again sometime. We're going to have a brand new hockey arena, although it's not called that. It's called an event centre. The money will be found to upgrade those bobsled tracks, I almost can guarantee you."

WinSport says it doesn't have the funds to finish a renovation of its sliding track, which needs upgrades to the refrigeration system and other improvements. (CBC)

Brookman believes the money will materialize in the wake of Canada Olympic Park's announcement that the 33-year-old track needs a complete overhaul of the refrigeration system and other upgrades. In February, WinSport announced that despite receiving $17 million in provincial and federal funding, it was still $8 million short of funds needed to renovate the track.

"Probably within the next 24 months, somebody will say, 'Oh look, we've got the world's best bobsleigh tracks.' The ski jumps, unfortunately technology in that sport has outlived the ski jumps," Brookman said.

"But I think Calgary has a fantastic spirit. We have the Nordic track we have the the Olympic oval. Calgary will host the Olympics again. I almost guarantee it. I just hope I'm here to see it."

The closure of the track means competitions would now have to be shifted to the bobsled track in Whistler, B.C., built to host the 2010 Olympics.

Not maintaining facilities

"I mean, this is a problem where we build these wonderful structures and then we don't invest in maintaining them well," Brookman said.

The idea of losing the local Olympic training ground has athletes, parents and coaches concerned.

"For me, the biggest concern would be losing the ability for our athletes to actually have space to be able to practise," said Lee Yuen. "But we have other world class facilities that are relatively close by that we could use in the interim."

The Canmore Nordic Centre, with its well-maintained network of trails, remains a world-class hosting and training centre for cross-country and biathlon. But bobsled, luge and skeleton athletes will have to shift their training.

The track was closed March 3 after WinSport wrapped up hosting the Alberta Luge Association Championships and Youth Nationals.

The closure will also be a blow to Calgary tourism, as Brookman pointed out.

"We just did have the World Cup here, and I think it was well watched around the world. It's great for hotel rooms, it's great for service companies, it's great for our city," he said.

"We just got to get our mojo back. It's like we're just letting everything, "Oh well, we don't know if we can do this, we don't know if we can do that.' That's not Calgary. This is the city that does things, that risk is is a challenge, not something to avoid. I'm disappointed in this, actually."

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How about some innovation in the way the Olympics are hosted?

"Look at the way the world cup of soccer works. They have a [host] country, and they go across country. Could that model not work for the Olympics?" Jim Rudser said.

"I think they'll be easier on the infrastructure, be easier on the people. It would take a lot less money. You won't have to buy an Olympic village in every city. I just think that would be easier on a country as a whole to facilitate.… I think it might be back to us to step back and maybe re-evaluate the best way to financially fund everything, because the Olympics are a great experience."

If any city is going to come up with the next big idea, Brookman thinks it will be Calgary.

"We need more dreamers as leaders," he said. "No, it's not dead. We'll do it again."