'Now what?': Olympians disappointed, heartbroken after No vote

A night that began with optimism for many Olympians ended in heartbreak as Calgarians voted in a 56 per cent majority against bidding for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Le May Doan, Upperton, Shewfelt, Junio all voice displeasure in result

Mary Moran, Calgary 2026 Bid Co. CEO, reacts to the results of Tuesday's plebiscite in which 56 per cent of Calgarians voted against bidding for the Winter Olympics. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

CALGARY — The mood was somewhat celebratory — beer-drinking fans and supporters alongside Olympians all waiting for the big reveal.

A Calgary pub, ironically located on Olympic Way, was packed Tuesday night with Olympians and fans decked out in sea of red and white.

One of the onlookers was wearing a Sidney Crosby Canada jersey, hoping for another golden Olympic moment on home soil.

There was optimism mixed with anxiety — not unlike how high-performance athletes feel before a big race or game.

"I figured when I retired I was done with the stress, but this is a different stress," said two-time Olympic speed-skating champion Catriona Le May Doan. "It still feels like race time."

And then, in an instant, a two-year race trying to convince people the Games belonged in Calgary ended as 56 per cent of Calgarians voted against hosting the 2026 Olympics. Game over. Race lost.

Watch The National segment on the Calgary plebiscite:

Calgarians vote against bid to host 2026 Winter Olympics

4 years ago
Duration 3:43
The No side won with 56.4 per cent of the vote, a total of 304,774 people cast ballots across the city.

For as much hope as Le May Doan had to begin the night, a high level of frustration matched it at the end.

"I don't know if we will continue past ten years being a winter sport city," she said. "I'm not sure. I would challenge the city and ask what's next? Because we need a plan."

Divided Community

Le May Doan wasn't mincing words about the direction of the city after Tuesday's vote.

"It showed us that we wanted to talk. But it also showed us that our city is very divided and that would start with Council. That's a problem. We need to find out how to be less divisive as a community."

There was a serious last push by many of Canada's Olympians in the days leading up to the plebiscite. They took to social media, relentlessly tweeting out reasons why the Game should be in Calgary. On Tuesday afternoon, some of those same Olympians spent the entire day on C-Train platforms handing out information on where to vote — and to vote Yes.

Helen Upperton, an Olympic silver medallist in bobsleigh at the 2010 Olympics, was one of those athletes trying to urge people for months to see the potential of the Games and was devastated by the result.

Watch BidCo CEO Mary Moran discuss why Yes was the right vote:

The future of Calgary's Olympic bid

4 years ago
Duration 9:41
CBC Sports' Scott Russell sits down with Mary Moran, CEO of the group BidCo, on why pursuing the 2026 Olympics is the right decision for not only Calgary, but Canada as a whole.

"I want to ask Calgary, now what? How are we going to revitalize our healthy, active lifestyle in this city?" she said.

"What's the idea? I feel so disappointed and heartbroken for everyone who had a dream for this city."

Those words were echoed by Olympic champion gymnast Kyle Shewfelt.

"What is the plan? If 56 per cent of Calgarians feel this wasn't good for the city, then what is a good thing for this city? Because the reality is when you say no to something you stay in the same place."

Speed skater Gilmore Junio was born and raised in Calgary — he calls himself a "legacy baby" of the 1988 Olympics. He learned how to skate in the Oval built for those Games. He became an Olympian in that Oval.

What is a plebiscite?

What the heck is a plebiscite?

4 years ago
Duration 1:20
CBC Sports' Anson Henry breaks down the referendum facing Calgary voters.

On Wednesday morning, he's returning to the Oval that helped sparked his dream and had hoped another Games would ignite many more dreams.

"It's going to be very disappointing at the Oval tomorrow. It's going to be tough," he said. "To say I'm disappointed is an understatement. There are a lot of thoughts going through my head about what could have been."

Frank King's legacy

In the middle of the crowd, surrounded by family and supporters, was Linda Maslechko, the daughter of Frank King. He was the mastermind and CEO of the 1988 Olympics.

King's legacy is felt throughout much of the city — he died in May at the age of 81. Maslechko fought back tears as she talked about what another Olympics in the city could have meant to build on her father's legacy.

"This is a huge missed opportunity for our city and there are a lot of people in this room who brought vision and action and a really great plan," Maslechko said. "I'm trying to fathom celebrating a No. It's just a loss for the city and I don't know how you celebrate that. But we can't just sit and wallow in the pain."

Earlier in the day, Maslechko was on Stephen Avenue in downtown Calgary dressed in an '88 torch relay jacket, talking to as many people as possible and urging them to vote Yes.

Maslechko says she remembers how important it was to her father to make the Olympics a community event for the people of Calgary and Canada, something she believed could happen again.

"The Olympics wouldn't have built a pipeline. They wouldn't have filled our office towers. But they would do something. It's more than just the economic return. It's about rejuvenating our spirit," she said.


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