COVER

CALGARY WELCOMES THE WORLD

BOB LEVIN February 15 1988
COVER

CALGARY WELCOMES THE WORLD

BOB LEVIN February 15 1988

CALGARY WELCOMES THE WORLD

COVER

It was December, 1978. Some 911 cult members, drinking poisoned Kool-Aid, had just committed mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Political experts

were predicting that Pierre Trudeau could not win the next election. The Crazy Ca nucks were kings of the mountain, taking first and second in a downhill race in Austria. Jane Fonda, in pre-u~rkout v~ideo days, had to be talked into doing a bikini scene in a movie. And in oil-booming Al berta, high-rolling businessmen-despite three earlier failures-decided to make another run at their impossible dream to bring the Winter Olympics to Ca4~ary.

It is February, 1988. Brightly colored Olympic banners are fluttering from buildings and light posts around Calgary. Olympic pin collecting is all the rage, and the corporate clamor over official this-and-thats has reached a cre-

scendo. A final, surprise offering of glamor-event tickets has sold out, scooped up by some of the 5,000 intrepid souls who camped out overnight in -31 °C cold and could not find a chinook when they needed one. The last of the grinning, red-suited torchbearers are closing in on Calgary. On Saturday the 13th, during the gala opening ceremonies at spruced-up McMahon Stadium, one of them will sprint onto the Astroturf surface—whose perimeter is covered with white sand to simulate snow—to light the Olympic cauldron.

Soon the frozen figures on the official Olympic coins—the lunging goalie, the soaring ski jumper, the surging speed skater—will spring to life, like marionettes. And after an eternity of intense organizing and microscopic media coverage, the impossible dream—believe it or not—will become reality.

Best: This is the week the countdown ends and the Games begin. For days athletes and officials have been checking in at the Olympic Village on the University of Calgary campus. Some 2,596 are expected from a record 58 countries, and they include 117 Canadians, the country’s largest-ever Winter Games team. Some of the 100,000 visiting spectators have also arrived. And the media throng, estimated at 5,000, has been pouring in as well, ready to tell the Olympic story to readers around the globe and beam it back to an estimated three billion television viewers. Thanks largely to TV revenues, officials of the Games’ organizing committee, known as OCO, re-

port that the $l-billion Games are on target to produce a $36million surplus, not counting the cost of the facilities. And when International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch came to town last week, he offered a ringing endorsement. “These will be the best Games in all our Olympic history,” Samaranch gushed. “Never has a city, a province and a country done so much for the Olympic Games.” Built: Certainly organizers have built first-rate athletic facilities—a whopping $350 million worth—and last week final grooming was well under way. At Mount Allan, the alpine skiing venue prone to warm chinook winds, the often-snowless slopes were covered with more than one metre of mostly manmade snow. A new product called SNOMAX —freeze-dried pellets of bacteria that efficiently turn water into snowhelped to create the artificial base, while the co-operative % cold kept it frozen. So produci tive was the snow-making, in w £ fact, that workers trucked load o after load from noncompetition r'VrÉ w§£2 slopes at Mount Allan to Canmore Nordic Centre, 50 km away. There, crews resorted to low-tech means to lay the snow on the cross-country and biathlon trails: they used tractors pulling manure spreaders.

In the view of many irate would-be ticketbuyers, the Games’ organizers have spread a little manure of their own. Games officials have long insisted that they cleaned up their ticket act after a 1986 scandal that resulted in the firing of OCO ticket manager James McGregor, whose case comes to trial in June. But the ticketing controversy rekindled last week. Such choice events as opening ceremonies, medal-round hockey and figure skating had been listed as sold-out for months; any tickets that became available, OCO officials promised, would go to people on the waiting list. But when returned tickets and expanded viewing areas recently made 30,300 tickets available, organizers insisted that they did not have enough time to fill the orders— and summarily scrapped the list. In-

stead, they offered the tickets on a first-come, first-served basis at the Calgary Stampede grounds on Feb. 1. That method ensured that the remaining seats would go only to Calgarians—and only to those willing to freeze their boots off standing in the overnight line.

Meanwhile, with prime tickets at a premium, Calgary police have been trying to crack down on scalpers. They charged a local doctor for advertising tickets and demanding more than face value. Another sort of highway robbery has plagued OCO’s $5.3-million pageantry campaign, which has draped the city with thousands of green, yellow, orange and blue Olympic banners. By last week some $10,000 worth of banners had been stolen. Four Calgary youths have been charged by police. Appealing for co-operation, OCO spokesman Terry Bullick announced that the banners will go on sale after the Games “for anyone who wants a souvenir.” She did not mention the price.

Pins: For the moment, the most popular legal souvenirs are Olympic pins. The University of Calgary will even hold a one-day seminar this week on pin trading, while trading hotbeds include the main press centre at Stampede Park and a Coca-Cola-sponsored downtown tent called International

Plaza. Pin traders were not the only ones having fun. When a Calgary dining lounge called Banana Maxx announced on Feb. 1 its Miss Nude Olympics contest, OCO officials —still vigilantly guarding official Olympic words and symbols—promptly protested. Chastened, the owners relented— and advertised a “Miss Nude ‘O-word’ Event.”

As the Games approached, more and

more public attention was focused on the athletes themselves. The Soviet figure skating squad, trying to escape what team captain Alexandre Gorshkov called the “psychological obstacles” of Calgary’s spectators and massed media, have stayed for two weeks in tiny Okotoks, 28 km south of the city. They quickly became local celebrities: twice daily, enthusiastic crowds of more than 1,000 watched them practise at the local recreation centre. Last week the Soviets tempered their sporting glasnost by asking arena officials to tell the crowds not to applaud quite so boisterously.

Home: Some members of the Canadian team are also trying to avoid distractions. Figure skater Elizabeth Manley, for instance, is planning to return home to Ottawa after the opening ceremonies. She will not compete until the second week of the Games and is anxious to get sufficient sleep and practice—and avoid the temptation to eat heartily at the Olympic Village cafeteria, which could imperil her skater’s figure. Manley is only one of Canada’s medal hopefuls. While the team lowered its standards to allow more participants in the home-country competition, it will still be led by such top-ranked competitors as world figure skating champion Brian Orser, the 1984 Games gold-medal hero speed skater Gaétan Boucher and downhill skiers Laurie Graham and Rob Boyd. Skier Felix Belczyk achieved contender status last month by winning a World Cup super giant slalom race in Switzerland, while the Canadian hockey team has recently added three National Hockey League players in its quest for Olympic gold.

The interminable buildup is all but over. The athletes are comz pleting their final tunes ups, and 225 massage z therapists from around q North America—working free of charge —are waiting to knead the Olympian muscles. The gold, silver and bronze medals—picturing an Indian and a Greek youth on one side and an array of Calgary and Olympic symbols on the other—are locked up in the Royal Bank, waiting to be won. Now come the fun and Games, the frenzy and glory. Just as Calgary dreamed it.

BOB LEVIN

JOHN HOWSE