This week VANOC released the first of three reports on past North American Olympic Winter Games. Lake Placid in 1980 was this week, Calgary will be next Monday and Salt Lake City will be the following Monday.
These reports are a compilation of news stories and reports on the Games, with some reflection from 27-, 19- and five-year perspectives following the Olympics.
One of the themes of these reports, according to a VANOC release, is the sporting legacies these three Olympic Winter Games produced. Lake Placid, for instance, is a national training centre for several Olympic winter sports and numerous American Olympians are from or have trained in Lake Placid. Similar statements will be made in the reports on Calgary and Salt Lake City.
But anyone who thinks that Whistler or Vancouver will attain similar status after the 2010 Games is not seeing the bigger picture. The 2010 Olympics are capable of delivering many legacies for Vancouver, Whistler, British Columbia and Canada — tourism, infrastructure, international contacts, great stories, legendary performances and perhaps even a new standard of excellence for Canadian Olympic athletes. But there isn’t likely to be a series of World Cup events coming to Vancouver or Whistler in the years following 2010, and Calgary will remain the national training centre for most winter sports.
Canada has some history in underutilizing Olympic facilities. There has never been a bicycle inside the spectacular velodrome built for the Summer Games in Montreal since 1976. The building has housed conventions and horticultural shows, but no bike racing.
Much of the safety system and racing infrastructure that was supposed to make Nakiska a national training centre for the alpine ski team was removed in the summer of 1988, just a few months after the Calgary Olympics. This had to do with a private operator’s needs in opening up Nakisksa to the public and running a brand new ski hill. The situation has turned around in the last decade as Nakiska, with its extensive snow-making system, has hosted many national ski teams preparing for the World Cup season.
And the Calgary Olympic Development Association, which was set up prior to the 1988 Olympics to run the speed skating oval, Canada Olympic Park and a national sport school for winter and summer athletes, is still in business. In fact, VANOC is helping fund a very active CODA, which has recently put money into the ski jumps at COP, built a halfpipe identical to the one under construction at Cypress for the 2010 Games, and helps maintain the speed skating oval.
The importance of COP and CODA, particularly to some of the lower-profile sports in Canada, is illustrated by Ski Jumping Canada. On its website the organization states: “Canada Olympic Park is the only site in Canada that can serve the needs of a Ski Jumping National Training Centre.” And that will still be the case after 2010, as the Nordic centre being built in the Callaghan will have only the two jumps used for Olympic competitions, and they may be removed after 2010. COP, on the other hand, has seven jumps of various sizes.
Efforts have also been made in the last couple of years to ensure the Canmore Nordic Centre maintains its status as the premier Nordic centre in Canada. The centre was redeveloped prior to hosting World Cup events in 2005.
The other cross-country centre to host World Cup events in recent years is the Sovereign Lake facility at Silver Star. It too claims to be the premier cross-country ski area in Canada.
This doesn’t diminish the scope or quality of the Whistler Nordic Centre, which will still be an important Olympic legacy for recreational skiers, regional competitions and ski and bike clubs. In fact, it might further the argument for the legacy trails. But as far as hosting World Cup events or becoming the home for the national team after 2010, there is stiff competition from two established Nordic centres in Western Canada that already have the club infrastructure in place.
As for alpine skiing, Alpine Canada is based in Calgary and Lake Louise is well established as the Canadian stop on the World Cup tour. The weather and early season conditions at Lake Louise are dependable, whereas Whistler couldn’t hold an early-season World Cup race in three years of trying. Alpine World Cup races at Whistler have gone the way of freestyle and snowboard World Cups — somewhere else in Canada where they are easier and less expensive to produce.
The bobsleigh/skeleton/luge track being built on Blackcomb could actually draw World Cup sliding events to Whistler after 2010, if Whistler is interested in hosting them and/or anyone is interested in seeing them. But unlike the other Winter Olympic sports, there isn’t really a club or provincial level of sliding competitions. The 45 members of Canada’s national bobsleigh and skeleton teams, and the luge team, will have the track at COP and the $100 million facility in Whistler mostly to themselves.
This is not to suggest that the 2010 Olympic events Whistler will host won’t produce tangible benefits for athletes. Paralympic skiers, both alpine and cross country, will benefit enormously from the facilities being built for the Games. Ski clubs at the local and provincial level will also benefit. And other sports, like mountain biking and gymnastics, may also utilize Olympic facilities.
But don’t expect Whistler to become a national training centre or a regular stop on winter World Cup tours after 2010.