Calgary shows how hard it is to stay in winter sports circle
We were shocked this week to read in Canadian news media that the bobsled-luge-skeleton track outside Calgary, Alberta, will close after it hosts a World Cup competition three weeks from now — unless someone puts up the money to save it. Meanwhile, Calgary’s ski jumps are also set to close: Two will be torn down, and the 90-meter jump will remain merely for a zipline and cellphone antennas.
These are the venues used in the 1988 Winter Olympics, and understandably, they needed some major upgrades 31 years later. But now we learn that those upgrades were tied to Calgary’s expected bid to host the Winter Olympics again in 2026 — a plan voters there rejected in November.
For the venues, apparently, it was a case of go big or go home.
It is bad for U.S. sliders to take away one of North America’s four tracks: Calgary; Whistler, British Columbia; Park City, Utah; and here in Lake Placid. Officials with USA Luge, based in Lake Placid, said the news of Calgary’s track closing caught them by surprise — and alarm.
“The ability for North American athletes to successfully compete and podium during international competitions starts with extensive training on all four tracks,” USA Luge CEO Jim Leahy said. “Anything shy of that effort will surely affect our future performance on the world stage.”
The Canadian federal and Alberta provincial governments had pledged a combined $17 million toward renovating Calgary’s sliding center, but that’s $8 million short, according to WinSport, the nonprofit corporation that runs the 1988 Olympic venues.
This highlights a big difference between Alberta and New York — for better or worse. It highlights what a serious commitment our state has made to keeping Lake Placid’s venues viable all these years for snow and ice sports — and now starting to renovate the lesser-used facilities for ski jumping and biathlon.
Last year New York state sank $60 million into upgrading Lake Placid’s Winter Olympic venues, plus $20 million the year before. This year our governor wants to invest another $80 million, and we don’t know if he’ll propose more the following year.
Plus, our state completely replaced the 1980 Olympic sliding tracks just 20 years after those games, in time for the 2000 Winter Goodwill Games.
Yes, the Goodwill Games and the safely secured 2023 Winter World University Games are fairly big, but nowhere near Olympic big. Notably, Lake Placid has never been the subject of a serious Olympic bid effort in the 39 years since it last hosted the big show.
Our venue investments are for long-term use, not just for a two-week Olympics.
This commitment began right after that 1980 games, ensuring that Lake Placid would not go the way of Squaw Valley (1960), Sarajevo (1984) or Albertville (1992), cities that have a little left to show for hosting the Winter Olympics.
We do. And not only that, Lake Placid has remained among the global hubs of top-tier winter sports training and competition.
Calgary now shows how hard and costly it is to do that. It also made that commitment, and for 22 years was its nation’s only viable site for Olympic-style winter sports — just as Lake Placid was for the U.S. in the 22 years before the Salt Lake City Olympics. Like Calgary, some of Lake Placid’s infrastructure got old and a little tired. But we are turning the corner and keeping it going for another generation.
That is rare on this planet — perhaps more so after Russia poured $51 billion — with a “B” — into construction for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Now, almost no nations bid to host the Olympics because they see it as too wasteful.
If these trends continue, the number of sites able to host top-level competition may shrink, but Lake Placid will remain among them. Internationally, it may be that games organizers stop considering brand-new sites and instead look to the tried-and-true ones — like Lake Placid.
In the 1970s, too, the Winter Olympics had gotten too big and expensive, scaring away host cities. Into that mess walked Lake Placid with its quaint pitch for a throwback to the days when small ski towns hosted the world and the focus was on the athletes rather than the spectacle. It was villagers who put the Lake Placid games together, and to this day, villagers here regularly organize events for thousands of competitors, such as the annual Empire State Winter Games, two annual Ironman triathlons and enormous annual lacrosse tournaments.
Lake Placid is not in the running for another Winter Olympics, and that’s fine. But it is among the shrinking handful of committed all-purpose winter sports hotspots around the globe, and it looks like it will stay that way for many decades to come.