On its third try for Olympic immortality, Calgary wins the 1988 Winter Games
Smooth-talkers from Cowtown
On its third try for Olympic immortality, Calgary wins the 1988 Winter Games
When Frank King took on the chairmanship of the Calgary Olympic Development Association (CODA) 2½ years ago, he embarked on a quest for the ultimate competition in amateur sports, the Olympic Games. He also entered the illusory and often fickle world of Olympic politics, the professional sport with no rules. Besides contending with three levels of Canadian government, it was the 45year-old oilman’s job to court and cajole the aristocrats of international sport, the members of the autocratic International Olympic Committee (IOC). King had to convince them that Calgary should be the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics. It was a role for which he was ideally suited, with his boyish charm, contagious enthusiasm and evident sincerity-all masking a steely sense of realism. Last week, his efforts paid rich dividends. Calgary was awarded the 1988 winter Games.
During the quest for the fiercely contested prize, King and his CODA colleagues travelled two million kilometres—equal to 50 times around the globe—visiting most of the IOC’s 82 members. The odyssey finally ended deep in the Black Forest of West Ger-
many at the exquisite resort town of Baden-Baden—famed for its its gastronomic delights. There, CODA’s strategy of establishing a strong personal rapport, perhaps a bond of friendship with each IOC member, was decisively vindicated.
The contingent defied the conventional wisdom that the Soviet bloc of delegates would punish Canada for boycotting the 1980 Moscow Games. It also ignored last minute below-the-belt criticisms from the Italian entrant, Cortina d’Ampezzo, which hosted the 1956 Games. Calgary won its bid on the second ballot, defeating the other competitor, the Swedish mining town of Falun. When he heard the announcement, an exhausted but exuberant King leaped from his seat and raised his clenched fist in a victory salute. Embracing Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein, King shouted: “It’s fantastic. It’s too good to be true. After 30 years, we finally got it. Hallelujah!” At the same time, 100 CODA volunteers in Calgary crowded around a television set at the downtown Calgary Convention Centre. At 8:57 a.m. they heard the announcement in French and recognized one word: Calgary. Champagne and tears flowed jubilantly.
Canada had made six unsuccessful attempts since 1949 at hosting the Winter Olympics, including three bids by Calgary. Now, with Seoul, South Korea, garnering the 1988 summer Games, it will be the first time since 1932 that
both Games have been held outside Europe in the same year.
The latest quest for the winter Games—which will be held between Feb. 23 and March 6, 1988—began with a dinner meeting of the Calgary Booster Club in the fall of 1978. Dedicated to helping amateur sport in the city, the club was looking for a new project. King and a few other members decided to examine the feasibility of another Olympic bid.
When they found that support existed, they revived CODA, an organzation that in earlier times included a young lawyer named Peter Lougheed, who made Calgary’s unsuccessful 1966 pitch for the 1972 Games. Remembering the organizational success of the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, CODA put together a consummate business team, heavily weighted toward sales and marketing. Then it followed a three-pronged strategy: gain the support of Calgarians, ensure there were no “white elephants”—expensive facilities that would lie dormant in the Games’ aftermath—and avoid emulating the financial and management debacle of the 1976 Montreal Games, with their $l-billion debt, or the transportation and money woes that plagued the Lake Placid winter Games in 1980.
From the beginning, CODA made every attempt to keep Calgarians and other interested groups informed of its activities. Two months before its trip to Germany, CODA launched a massive publicity blitz featuring Calgary’s ski-
team star Ken Read. It kicked off a $5per-person membership drive. Arriving with 80,000 members in their back pocket, CODA impressed the IOC. After two years, they had enlisted 2,000 volunteers.
To ensure that the Olympic facilities are used long after the two-week festival is finished, a $30-million endowment fund will be established to pay for operating costs in the decades ahead. And to assure the IOC that the Montreal fiasco would not be repeated, CODA planned for every eventuality and examined every technical detail. “We had to present an organizational face that
was unquestioned. The way we did that was to organize to the hilt,” says King,2 who knows something about planning for the future. As a senior vice-president of Turbo Resources, he is also in charge of building a $200-million refinery north of Calgary, the largest ever built by a Canadian company.
Olympic events will be spread among three sites: the city itself, Bragg Creek in the foothills of the Rockies and the Kananaskis in the mountains. The Olympic flame will be lit at opening ceremonies in an expanded McMahon Stadium in northwest Calgary, the home of the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. Nearby, the University of Calgary will house the Olympic Village, temporarily displacing its resident students to accommodate 2,500 athletes and officials. Next door, a speed-skating oval is planned. At Stampede Park in the city’s core, an 18,000seat $70-million coliseum is under construction to feature the figure skating and hockey competitions. To show the IOC fathers that Calgary was serious about its bid, city council, with the aid of the provincial government, bulldozed through neighborhood objections to get a start on construction. Bragg Creek
will be the site of cross-country skiing, the biathlon, ski jumping, bobsled and luge events. This will require construction of North America’s second bobsled
In Kananaskis Country, the province’s massive new provincial playground, the imposing Mounts Sparrowhawk and Shark will host the alpine skiing, the courses designed with the help of Ken Read. Training facilities will dot the sites, and transportation will be provided by Calgary’s new rapid transit lines and buses.
The costs, however, will be substantial. According to the budget prepared by CODA in consultation with two of the West’s leading architectural firms, it will cost $415 million in 1981 dollars. To cover that, CODA has asked the federal government for $200 million out of revenues from the sale of stamps, coins and Ottawa’s proposed national sport-betting pool. Alberta will provide a $70million grant and a $53-million loan to help with start-up. The city is providing $24 million, much of it in the form of land for the coliseum. Mayor Klein created a minor fuss in Baden-Baden when, at the last minute, he asked for a memo from CODA outlining the city’s
responsibilities and obligations. “I want to ensure there’s no hardship to the taxpayer,” Klein said defensively. Asked if Calgary would replicate Montreal, (where Mayor Jean Drapeau said, “The Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby.”) he retorted: “It better not. I don’t want to be another Drapeau.” The remainder will come from general revenues such as ticket sales, marketing programs, sponsorships—not to mention television rights, which are expected to run at least $100 million, compared to Lake Placid’s $20 million. “We’re not going to overrun on costs,” King says.
By the time the budget was released in mid-September, seemingly every detail had been taken care of and close to $2 million had been spent on the bid. A slick slide show for the final day’s presentation was ready to go. Arriving in the German town, CODA turned on its western hospitality in the Albertashaped pavilion, which featured two genuine Mounties and two Blood Indians. Flapjack breakfasts and barbeques added a new flavor to Baden-Baden.
When Calgary won, it was reminiscent of the day the city’s sports fans arrived in Toronto for the 1948 Grey Cup. Baden-Baden was awash in white hats. King’s wife, Jeanette, grabbed an Olympic flag and led federal Sports Minister Gerald Regan, Lougheed and 100 others in a bunny hop around the Kurhaus Casino, where the decision had been announced only an hour earlier. High River country and western musician Doug Goldsmith borrowed an accordian and played O Canada. CODA members cried, some forgot the words, and IOC delegates stood smartly at attention. Back home, Calgary hotels were soon besieged by telephone calls from as far away as London, Ont., seeking reservations for 1988. The callers were evidently heeding the Alberta premier’s televised invitation: “This has got to unite the country. We went to see the Montreal Games. Now we hope that they will come and see us.” Cp
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