Calgary will redefine its reputation as a winter sport powerhouse in the aftermath of a vote rejecting a bid for the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
In a city where recreational, domestic and international athletes ski, board and skate in the legacy venues from the 1988 Winter Olympics, the results of a plebiscite indicated that distinction doesn’t warrant bidding for another games.
In the non-binding plebiscite, just under 40 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot, and 56 per cent cast a dissenting one.
A Calgary city council that was nervous and divided over bidding is expected to scuttle it Monday.
Calgary, along with the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., made Canada a player in the international sport community.
If a city synonymous with a successful games legacy doesn’t want to them again, what Canadian city ever will?
“Sport in a positive sense really brings a country together,” Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith said Wednesday. “I think it’s just a part of us, our humanity. So I suspect we will see another bid from Canada.”
But the chair of Calgary’s bid corporation doesn’t think the city should immediately shift its focus to chasing the 2030 Winter Games. Scott Hutcheson says the city needs to decompress and re-assess.
“I don’t think its 2030,” Hutcheson said. “I think you’ve got to put your pencil down for seven years. You don’t put it down for three years.
“Use the work later, but you can’t put a city through this every four years. My view would be let it go, accept the result, move on and come back with a bid maybe in seven years.”
Yves Hamelin relocated from Quebec, where he was head of the national short-track speedskating team, to Calgary in 2014 to oversee the Olympic Oval. His son Charles is a three-time gold medallist in short-track.
A sport system that would have been shaped by a home games on the horizon now must adjust expectations and plans, he said.
“For a while, there’s definitely going to be an impact,” Hamelin said. “Will this remove our appetite to do what’s right, to support our community, support youth and the athletes that come out of this sport development? The motivation will always stay.
“We will always keep our eyes on making the sport system as best we can with what we have to do that. The games were just a tool, a leverage to really give an edge to our system. We’re going to have to be more creative I would say.”
Looking at Calgary through a sport lens, it is a city of facilities more than three decades old.
WATCH: Calgarians say no to 2026 Olympic bid
While a new stadium and NHL arena weren’t part of the proposed draft plan, McMahon Stadium and the Saddledome were promised an overhaul.
A $500-million renewal of Calgary’s ‘88 legacies was one piece of a proposed bid.
The other was economic revitalization of a city that has a commercial vacancy rate of 25 per cent in a province that desperately wants pipelines built to the coast to get a competitive price for its oil.
Calgary was one of many North American cities that made a pitch for Amazon’s second headquarters, but didn’t make the shortlist.
Calgary 2026’s proposed draft plan asked Calgarians to put in $390 million and said $4.4 billion would come back to the city if it won the games.
Kyle Shewfelt, an Olympic gold medallist in gymnasitcs at the 2004 Athens Games, is a business owner in Calgary operating his own gymnastics centre.
For him, sport ranked second behind the economy when it came to what he thought a Winter Games would do for the city.
“My question now is, if 56 per cent of Calgarians didn’t want this, what do they want?” he asked. “This was about a catalyst for our city to move forward.
“We’re in a place right now where we’re boom and bust because of oil and gas and that’s all we wait for. I want to diversity this economy. I want us to pursue a big challenge. I want to be a part of that.”
The International Olympic Committee is left with two of the three cities it invited to be candidates for 2026: Stockhom and Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
IOC executive Christophe Dubi visited Calgary multiple times touting a low-risk, high-reward scenario should Calgary get the games.
The IOC, like Calgary 2026, did not convince the majority of voters Tuesday.
“It comes as no surprise following the political discussions and uncertainties right up until the last few days,” the IOC said in a statement.
“It is disappointing that the arguments about the sporting, social and long-term benefits of hosting the Olympic Games did not sway the vote.”
— With files from Canadian Press sports reporter Gregory Strong.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press