You could say that I am a child of ’88. Not only did the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary deliver the inspiration for me to try speed skating, the lasting legacy from their success charted a path I could follow to the top of the world.
The profitable ’88 Games with significant endowment funds allowed for the support of high performance sport programs. CSI Calgary was then established to provide an array of support for athletes and coaches including sport medicine, science and life services.
Without question, my career and success in long track speed skating were directly connected to both the bricks and mortar legacy of the Olympic Oval and the sustained funding of integrated support team members at CSI Calgary who helped me reach my potential.
Therefore, it would be easy to assume, based on the life of sport I once led, that I am one enthusiastic and staunch supporter of a Calgary bid for the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. That assumption would be correct, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.
Now seven years removed from a 23-year skating career, life is, mercifully, not so singularly focused and self-serving. It is also not so simple.
Navigating the post-sport world through a rewarding master’s degree, the beautiful chaos of motherhood and the recent, sudden loss of my father has left me with a decidedly broadened view of the world – one that is less self-centred and more occupied with thoughts and questions about the Greater Purpose to Life.
It could be argued that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has faced its own existential crisis of late. Cities eager to bid for the Games are ever dwindling – the fallout from mountains of debt, ghosted venues and disenfranchised citizens, all left behind by Olympic cities who took a leap of faith on a promise that made them feel good but fell short on execution.
Why would Calgary want to wade into that?
Maybe because the IOC has shifted gears with Agenda 2020 – not so much a mea culpa as it is an anxious, but graceful and thorough, reaction to a changing reality. The Games are not always the golden egg they appear to be.
Faced with a world increasingly concerned with the environment, social equality and justice, accountability, morality and transparency, the IOC recognized it must evolve to remain relevant. In his opening speech at the 127th IOC Session in 2014, IOC President Thomas Bach said, “We need to change because sport today is too important in society to ignore the rest of society.”
With Agenda 2020, the IOC has made 40 progressive recommendations. For example, the cost of bidding will be reduced, maximizing use of existing venues is encouraged, and legacy planning and implementation is imperative. These points alone represent a dramatic shift in attitude, one that opens the door for a novel approach: we can accomplish something much bigger than the Games themselves.
Calgary already has an Olympic sport legacy and it helped transform Canada into one of the world’s leading winter sport nations. But that is not enough anymore, the Olympics must reach beyond the confines of sport to transform society, too. Agenda 2020 paves the way for the Olympics to become a transformational event that goes far beyond 16 days of guts and glory.
There are myriad complex factors that will dictate whether Calgary, an Olympic city that already embodies much of what Agenda 2020 is about, should bid. Whether it is technically feasible, prudent, economical and fair is still to be determined. Big numbers will float around and make us fearful.
However, for the time we have here, in this complicated place, we must eke out purpose somehow. We have to care about something – this is what brings meaning to our lives. And meaning is what brings us joy.
A 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Calgary, could show the world that, while gold medals are inspiring, the true purpose of the Olympics/Paralympics could be not the Games themselves, but a vehicle for lasting change that reaches all corners of society. Legacy planning and implementation could become the primary goal and the Games would serve as a mere starting point from which to light the match.
Transforming the Olympics, an event historically centred on itself, into something much greater will be hard, but the potential for success is so tempting. It could be a game-changing Games, and that’s why Calgary should bid.
Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover