Olympic countdown

JOHN HOWSE February 16 1987

Olympic countdown

JOHN HOWSE February 16 1987

Olympic countdown


The opening ceremonies are just one year away. Next Feb. 13, to the cheers of 50,000 spectators, the last of 6,956 cross-country torch-bearers will turn off the Trans-Canada Highway into Calgary’s McMahon Stadium. Carrying aloft the flickering symbol of the Olympic movement— transported from its home in Olympia, Greece—the final runner will rekindle the Olympic flame to signal the opening of the 1988 Winter Games. Looking forward to that globally televised moment, the Olympiques Calgary Olympics committee (OCO) reported last week that the billion-dollar Games are on schedule—and on budget.

Indeed, OCO proudly predicted that

Calgary would not suffer the massive cost overruns and deficits incurred by Canada’s only other Olympics, the 1976 Montreal Games. Ticket sales are brisk, and most of the sites have received glowing reviews. Said OCO chairman Frank King, before leaving for Lausanne, Switzerland, to deliver a progress report to the International Olympic Committee (IOC): “Now we can get down to the Games themselves.”

OCO’s plans have not been without glitches. The committee has endured a series of misadventures over the distribution of Games tickets. Its choice of Mount Allan as site of the alpine skiing events was widely criticized; the opposition eased only after exten-

sive alterations to the ski runs. Organizers are concerned about limited hotel accommodations. And an Alberta Indian band has organized a boycott of an Olympics cultural event.

But the recurring ticket problems have been the worst stain on OCO’s reputation. The scandals began last October, when it was revealed that as many as 10 per cent of all Games tickets had been reserved for the “Olympic family”—IOC members, Olympic committee members from around the world, dignitaries and sponsors. Before the end of the month, the committee acknowledged that fully 50 per cent of all tickets had been committed. While OCO tried to mollify wouldbe purchasers and to persuade the

Olympie family to reduce their demands, it fired ticket manager James McGregor when he was charged with fraud, theft and mischief. McGregor allegedly instructed 8,000 mail-order ticket buyers in the United States to make their payments to his own company. Last October OCO sued McGregor for $200,000 in damages. His trial is pending.

Then, on Jan. 7, the Calgary Herald charged that Calgary aldermen had secured unlimited access to Games tickets. The city of Calgary’s Olympic liaison officer, Robert Holmes, conceded that the politicians did have preferential access to 2,000 tickets, which they must purchase. The following week, Calgarybased tour operator Douglas Goudie sued OCO for $7.5 million, claiming that he had been denied tickets eara lier promised to his £ company.

2 The controversy did 5 not end there. On Jan. 19, OCO announced that 160 members of its staff had benefited from a “statistical impossibility.” From the tens of thousands of applications for tickets sent to OCO, the committee employees received virtually all the tickets they wanted. Said King: “Those tickets will go back into the bin, and we will have a computerized lottery for them.” Last week, perhaps optimistically, King said: “The negative ticket publicity is over. It is now time for community spirit.”

But first, King will deliver his reassurances in Lausanne this week that Mount Allan is a site worthy of the Games. Serge Lang, founder of the World Cup ski circuit, once described the controversial choice as a “Mickey Mouse hill.” Lang’s assessment of the relatively tame descent—by World Cup and Olympic standards —was shared by the IOC and

the International Ski Federation.

Following the criticism, the courses were widened, some grades sharpened, and some manmade undulations redesigned. The provincial government picked up the bill. Last December, after surveying the alpine courses and the sprawling $25.3million Mount Allan ski resort 91 km southwest of Calgary, International Ski Federation president Marc Hodler of Switzerland described Mount Allan as “one of the world’s foremost downhill courses.” Reviews of the $15.4-million Canmore Nordic Centre, 110 km west of Calgary, were no less enthusiastic.

Following a World Cup cross-country skiing and biathlon event last month,

Sweden’s Torgny Mogren called the 15km Olympic crosscountry course “the toughest I’ve competed on.”

The committee still faces a major threat to its native artifacts exhibit— a centrepiece of a planned five-week Olympic Arts Festival. Alberta’s 400member Lubicon Lake Indian Band wants its land claim with the provincial and federal governments settled before it halts its campaign for a boycott of the Glenbow Museum event. Pending settlement of the dispute, 12

European museums are withholding about 200 exhibits. Said band chief Bernard Ominayak, brushing aside an appeal for co-operation last week from Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein: “Our backs are up against the wall. We’ve got to keep fighting these powerful guys any way we can.”

Nor has the weather co-operated. Calgary’s winter-long warm spell has interrupted artificial snowmaking at the $60.9-million Canada Olympic Park, site of the bobsled, luge and ski jumping events. Last month dust blown from snowfree fields settled into the refrigerated 1,480-metre bobsled track. The serpentine ice slides have since been cleaned and refrozen for the Cana_ dian luge champion“ ships and a World I Cup bobsled competition this month. For the World Cup freestyle skiing event on Feb. 1, snow was trucked in to top up artificial snow.

The $97.3-million Olympic Saddledome, site of the hockey and figure skating competitions, has already been tested and approved. Since 1983 the Saddledome has been the home rink for both the NHL’s Calgary Flames and Canada’s Olympic hockey team. And the $38.9-million 400-metre speed skating oval on the Universi-

ty of Calgary campus should be completed on schedule this spring. For years OCO chairman King had been a member of the local Booster Club, which fought unsuccessfully for funds to build a new field house on the campus in the late 1970s. When the world’s only fixed-roof 400-metre skating facility is completed, it will provide the equivalent of two field houses. The structure is part of the $400 million worth of facilities and operating funds held in trust that Alberta will inherit after the 16-day Olympics.

Building on its record $426 million for TV rights from the ABC network, OCO anticipates additional revenues of $76 million from corporate sponsorships and Olympic logo licensing—and $36 million from ticket sales. More than 500,000 tickets have already been sold, with 43 of the 128 events sold out. OCO is now scurrying to make another 300,000 tickets available by expanding spectator areas at skiing, ski jumping and freestyle skiing events and adding 2,600 seats for all 29 hockey games at the Saddledome.

But finding hotel

rooms for all the ticket holders is giving OCO headaches. Having aggressively recruited sponsors for the Games, the committee has arranged tickets and beds for the sponsors and their guests. As a result, most of the estimated 12,000 hotel and motel beds in the Bow Valley corridor between Lake Louise and Calgary are booked. Also looming is a tidal wave of media representatives. OCO says that it can accommodate 4,500, including 2,000 from ABC and the host broadcaster, CTV. The

Canadian Olympic Association, which will accredit Canadian journalists, expects applications from 900, apart from the CTV contingent. Said the association’s communications director, Frank Ratcliífe: “I may be saying ‘no’ to as many as 400 applicants. That means more people will hate me coast to coast than normally.”

Still with one year to go, IOC member Dick Pound of Montreal—who monitors the Calgary Games for the IOC—claims that OCO is probably further ahead at this stage than any organizing committee in Olympic history. Said Pound: “It will all come together, as we always thought it would.” OCO will present its final report to a full 92-member IOC meeting May 5 to 12 in Istanbul. By then, according to one OCO staffer, the membership’s only worries about the Games of the 15th Winter Olympiad will be about “their own hotel rooms and rental cars.” And by the time the flame enters McMahon Stadium, OCO’s problems and worries too may no longer be of Olympian proportions.

—JOHN HOWSE in Calgary