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Calgary Olympics were the ‘seed’ for future sporting success

As successful as the 1988 Olympics proved to be for Calgary as a whole, those particular games weren’t the best for Canadian athletes.

Canada had already earned the dubious distinction as being the only host nation to fail to win a gold medal at the Summer Games in Montreal in 1976, and history repeated itself 12 years later, with no Canadian athlete making it to the top of the podium in Calgary, either.

But fast forward to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver – where the Canadian team earned 14 gold medals, the most of any country– and an obvious question is raised.

How did we come so far?

The answer lies in the aforementioned success – off the field of play – of the 1988 Winter Games.

“It was really the seed for our success in winter sport,” said Own The Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger. “Without the added enhancement and investment and upgrading of the winter sport venues in Calgary and the geographic area around Calgary, we would take a big step back in our performance, I believe.”

Indeed, nearly three quarters of Canadian medalists at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin either came from Alberta or trained in the province at facilities built for the 1988 Olympics, according to a report commissioned by the Vancouver 2010 organizing committee.

But it’s more than just the facilities. The Canadian Olympic Committee also received $40 million in endowment funds from Calgary in 1988 and now uses the interest to fund athletes.

“The return on the investment is money we spend every day, every year for the athletes and it comes from the legacy of the Calgary Games,” COC president Marcel Aubut said. “We owe a lot to the Calgary Games, a lot.”

The facilties and money were also accompanied by a shift in attitude and culture, said Ken Read, director of winter sport for Own The Podium.

“We had the lingering stigma of no home gold in '76 and '88,” Read said. “And there was a generation of sport leaders who knew we could do better.”

After Vancouver’s successful bid to host the 2010 games was announced in July 2003, Read said a group of “key partners” got together to establish an ambitious goal and a plan to get there.

“From this, Own the Podium was established, with the intent of lifting Canada's sport system to a world-leading standard through the appropriate investment into medal potential,” Read said.

“However, this was only possible, because of the legacy of '88 – the venues, the sport administrative capacity and the vision of a select number of people who could see the bigger goal.”

Now, Canada's next target is to win more medals than any other country at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

– With files from Canadian Press

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