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1988 Winter Olympics

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XV Olympic Winter Games
1988 Winter Olympics logo.svg
Emblem of the 1988 Winter Olympics[a][1]
Host cityCalgary, Alberta, Canada
MottoComing Together in Calgary
(French: Se réunir à Calgary)
Athletes1,423 (1,122 men, 301 women)
Events46 in 6 sports (10 disciplines)
OpeningFebruary 13
ClosingFebruary 28
Opened by
StadiumMcMahon Stadium

The 1988 Winter Olympics, officially known as the XV Olympic Winter Games (French: XVes Jeux olympiques d'hiver) and commonly known as Calgary 1988, was a multi-sport event held from February 13 to 28, 1988, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It was the first Winter Olympic Games to be held for 16 days, like the counterpart Summer Olympic Games.[2] The majority of the contested events took place in Calgary itself. However, the skiing events were held west of the city at the Nakiska ski resort in Kananaskis Country[3][4] and at the Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park in the town of Canmore.[5]

In 1988, a record of 57 National Olympic Committees (NOC) that sent the total of 1,423 athletes to these Games.[2] These Winter Olympics would be the last attended one for both the Soviet Union and East Germany NOCs. Just like the 1976 Summer Olympics, Canada failed again to win a gold medal in an official medal event on home soil. The Finnish ski jumper, Matti Nykänen,[6][7] and the Dutch speed skater, Yvonne van Gennip,[8][9] won three individual gold medals each. The 1988 Winter Olympics were also remembered for the "heroic failure" of both the British ski jumper, Michael Edwards, and the debut of the Jamaica national bobsleigh team. The both of them became subjects of major feature films about their participation in these Games: Cool Runnings by Disney in 1993[10] and Eddie the Eagle by 20th Century Studios in 2016.[11]

At approximately C$829 million, the Calgary Games were one of the most expensive Olympics ever held at the time. The facilities that were built for these Winter Olympics helped the Calgary region turn into the heart of Canada's elite winter sports program, under the tutelage of WinSport.[12] The five purpose-built venues for those Games continued to be used mostly for training and hosting various winter sporting events every year. These experiences helped Canada develop into one of the top nations in Winter Olympics competition. The climax of this effort was the overall first place finish at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.[13]

Host city selection[edit]

1988 Winter Olympics bidding results[14]
City Country Round 1 Round 2
Calgary  Canada 35 48
Falun  Sweden 25 31
Cortina d'Ampezzo  Italy 18

The bid for the 1988 Winter Olympics was Canada's seventh and Calgary's fourth attempt in wanting to host the Games. The previous Canadian bids came from the following: Montreal (for 1956), Vancouver (for 1976 and 1980), and by the Calgary Olympic Development Association (CODA) for 1964, 1968, and 1972.[15] However, for 1972, the town of Banff was the official candidate for those Games.[16] CODA was laid dormant in 1966, after losing three consecutive bids in a row. However, it was later revived in 1979, when Frank King of Calgary's Booster Club[17] took over its leadership.[18][19] First, Calgary was chosen over Vancouver, by the Canadian Olympic Association (COA), to be Canada's official bid for the 1988 Winter Olympics. The defeated organizing group lamented that they lost to Calgary's "Big-ticket Games" idea. This idea was that the Calgary bid had proposed then, to the COA, to spend nearly three times what the Vancouver group was expected to pay to host the Winter Olympics.[20]

Next, CODA spent two years building local support for the megaproject, selling memberships to approximately 80,000 of Calgary's 600,000 residents.[14] It had secured C$270 million in funding from the federal and Alberta's governments while some civic leaders, including then mayor Ralph Klein, crisscrossed the world to favor IOC delegates.[18] Driven by the arrival of the National Hockey League's (NHL) newly renamed Calgary Flames from Atlanta in 1980, the city had already begun constructing a new NHL arena that would be later named the Olympic Saddledome. That course of action demonstrated to the IOC about Calgary's determination in wanting to host the Winter Olympics.[21]

The Olympic bid itself emphasized the cultural and the natural beauty of Calgary and surrounding areas, as an asset for hosting the Winter Olympics. The city was marketed as a capitalist, oil-driven, and modern economy that also had mountain playgrounds, extensive wilderness, and a western rodeo culture.[22] The two seemingly contradictory images were brought together, as part of an extensive and diverse lobbying program.[22]

Calgary was one of three cities and towns that bid officially for the 1988 Winter Olympics. The other two were Falun, Sweden, and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. The Italian town (comune) had before hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics.[18] The vote was held on September 30, 1981, in Baden-Baden, West Germany, during the 84th IOC Session and 11th Olympic Congress. After Cortina d'Ampezzo was eliminated in the first round of balloting, Calgary won in the second and final round of balloting over Falun, by a margin of 17 votes.[14] The announcement of CODA's victory sent the delegates in Baden-Baden and Calgary residents into singing and dancing.[23] It also made then Alberta premier, Peter Lougheed, burst openly into tears in front of the cameras. Later, Ralph Klein sang a rendition of Mac Davis' It's Hard to Be Humble.[24] It was the first Winter Olympics awarded to Canada and the second Olympic Games overall, following the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.[2] Cortina d'Ampezzo, along with Milan, would get to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.[25] The town would be the fourth one to host the Winter Olympics twice, along with St. Moritz (1928 and 1948), Lake Placid (1932 and 1980), and Innsbruck (1964 and 1976).

Olympic historians, John E. Finding and Kimberly D. Pelle, noted that once the Games were awarded to Calgary, the cultural and community aspects of the bid were pushed aside by the newly formed Calgary Olympic organizing committee called the Olympiques Calgary Olympics '88 (OCO'88). It then proceeded to take on a "vigorous, resilient, and impersonal corporate business strategy" towards the planning and operation of the Games.[22]


Exterior shot of an indoor arena. The building has a sloped roof in the shape of a reverse hyperbolic paraboloid and a primarily-concrete outer facing with red towers at the corners. Several skyscrapers are visible in the background.
The IIHF called the Olympic Saddledome "the finest international rink in the world". It is also the largest hockey arena ever used at the Olympics with a capacity of 20,016 in 1988.[26]

Bill Pratt was a former general contractor who took over as OCO'88 president in 1983. He was the main manager that oversaw the construction of the Olympic megaproject. Donald Jacques, a former general manager of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, once said, "Because of him, everything was built on time and on budget." However, Bill Pratt was controversial by rubbing many of his fellow colleagues the wrong way. One former co-worker once predicted back in 1983: "He will get everything built. There may not be many (of us) left around to enjoy it, but he'll get it done." His relations with the news media were also strained at times. He had barely settled into his new position, when the Calgary press media began criticizing OCO'88 for excessive secrecy and for awarding Olympic contracts to Calgary's PR firm of Francis Williams and Johnson Ltd.[27] Pratt was a director of that firm, before accepting the organizing committee job. OCO'88 had insisted that there was no conflict of interest involved in the whole process. Therefore, Pratt declared: "I have been nailed for a lot, but that does not bother me. The record stands".[24] After the 1988 Winter Olympics bid was won in 1981, OCO'88 revised all the original venue sites from its bid book, except for the location of the Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary.[28]

McMahon Stadium, the primary outdoor facility used mainly by the Canadian Football League's (CFL) Calgary Stampeders, was the site of both the opening and closing ceremonies.[29] The last time that the two Olympic ceremonies were held at the same venue was at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California.[30]

The 1988 Winter Olympics' five main all-purpose venues were created at a significant cost at that time.[31] Three of them are located within Calgary and the other two are located west from the city. First, the Olympic Saddledome was the venue for the men's ice hockey final and some figure skating competitions. It is located at Stampede Park and this facility was expected to cost C$83 million, but a cost overrun pushed it to nearly C$100 million.[30] Second, the Olympic Oval was built on the campus of the University of Calgary for C$40 million.[32] It was the first fully enclosed 400-metre long track speed skating venue in the world for Olympic competition, in order to protect the athletes from bitter cold weather to warm Chinook winds.[33] Third, Canada Olympic Park (formerly called the Paskapoo Ski Hill) was renovated for C$200 million and is located at the western outskirts of Calgary. This most expensive venue of these Winter Olympics hosted the men's bobsleigh, luge, and men's ski jumping and its portion of the Nordic combined events.[30] Also, it hosted some events of the demonstration sport of freestyle skiing.

From the west of Calgary, the other two main all-purpose venues were built at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. First, the Canmore Nordic Centre was 90% funded by the province of Alberta, at a cost of C$17.3 million.[32] It is located beside the town of Canmore and it hosted the cross-country skiing, plus its men's portion of the Nordic combined, and the men's biathlon events. After the Games were over, there was the intention that it would become a year-round destination for Albertans, by facilitating Canmore's transition away from coal mining.[32][34] However, the Nakiska (Cree meaning for "to meet") ski resort was the most controversial venue built for these Winter Olympics.[33] It is located on Mount Allan (inside Kananaskis Country) and it hosted the alpine skiing events for C$25 million by the Alberta government. The venue site drew criticism because of the various environmental concerns, the building of adequate ski slopes, and the need to use artificial snowmaking for a ski resort there.[28][35] Also, the International Ski Federation (FIS) officials noted about the venue's lack of technical difficulty needed for Olympic competition.[33] Therefore, these FIS officials proposed modifications to the pistes that was met ultimately with praise from Olympic alpine skiing competitors.[36] Like at Canada Olympic Park, this venue also hosted some freestyle skiing events as a demonstration sport, too.

There were three other existing facilities that served as secondary competition venues for these Winter Olympics. First, the Max Bell Centre hosted the demonstration sports of curling and short track speed skating. Second, the Father David Bauer Olympic Arena hosted some men's ice hockey matches and the figure skating's individual compulsory figures events. Third, the now-demolished Stampede Corral also hosted some ice hockey matches and some figure skating events, too.[30] Though the Stampede Corral did not support the International Ice Hockey Federation's (IIHF) standard-sized Olympic ice surface, OCO'88 was able to convince the IIHF to sanction the ice rink for Olympic competition, in exchange for a C$1.2 million payment.[33]

Participating National Olympic Committees[edit]

A record 57 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) entered athletes at the 1988 Winter Olympics, with eight more NOCs than any other previous Olympic Winter Games.[37] 1,122 men and 301 women, for a total of 1,423 athletes, participated in these Games.[2] Fiji, Guam, Guatemala, Jamaica, the Netherlands Antilles and the Virgin Islands had their Winter Olympics debut in 1988.

Participating NOCs
Participating National Olympic Committees[b]


There were 46 events contested in 6 sports (10 disciplines). In addition, there were 4 demonstration disciplines that have no official status in the overall medal tally.


All dates are in Mountain Time Zone (UTC-7)
OC Opening ceremony Event competitions 1 Event finals CC Closing ceremony
February 13th
Ceremonies OC CC N/A
Alpine skiing pictogram.svg Alpine skiing 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 10
Biathlon pictogram.svg Biathlon 1 1 1 3
Bobsleigh pictogram.svg Bobsleigh 1 1 2
Cross country skiing pictogram.svg Cross country skiing 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 8
Figure skating pictogram.svg Figure skating 1 1 1 1 4
Ice hockey pictogram.svg Ice hockey 1 1
Luge pictogram.svg Luge 1 1 1 3
Nordic combined pictogram.svg Nordic combined 1 1 2
Ski jumping pictogram.svg Ski jumping 1 1 1 3
Speed skating pictogram.svg Speed skating 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 10
Daily medal events 4 2 2 4 2 2 5 4 3 3 2 2 3 4 4 46
Cumulative total 4 6 8 12 14 16 21 25 28 31 33 35 38 42 46
February 13th
Total events

Weather conditions[edit]

The weather conditions were a problem facing OCO'88 during the Games, with temperatures ranging from -28° to +22° Celsius.[39] After the frosty opening ceremony,[40] the men's downhill skiing event at Nakiska was postponed for one day, due to Chinook winds blowing up to 160 km/h.[41] The women's downhill event also experienced the same scenario. With the ski jumping venue facing north at Canada Olympic Park (COP), the same winds also disrupted those events,[32] with the large hill event being postponed four times.[42] It had also disrupted the Nordic combined events, in which the ski jumping part had to be postponed as well. For the first time in Olympic history, both the ski jumping and Nordic combined cross-country skiing events was contested in a single day.[43] Despite using artificial cooling,[32] the bobsleigh and luge events at COP was not spared, with several races being postponed due to the high temperatures during that time. At the same time, some sand and dust particles ended up being deposited onto the artificial track by the same Chinook winds.[44]


The official poster of the 1988 Winter Olympics

Olympic organizing committee (OCO'88)[edit]

The Calgary Olympic Development Association (CODA) Board of Directors had originally 25 members. It was chaired by Frank King,[19] followed by former Mayors Ralph Klein and Ross Alger, and other prominent Calgarians. The executive committee president was Robert Niven.[45] The Olympic Organizing Committee (OOC) was formed by utilizing many of the original board of directors members.[46] It was initially started with 11 members and was grown to 25 members by October 1983.[47] It grew further to 29 members by 1985, when former Alberta premier, Peter Lougheed, was added to the list.[22][48] An Olympic biographer, Kevin Wamsley, noted that the CEO Frank King, the President Bill Pratt, Ralph Klein, and a former COA President Roger Jackson had collectively the most influence on all aspects of these Winter Olympics.[22] This organizing committee took a hierarchical form for planning these Olympics, which caused consternation from some staff, volunteers, and people in executive roles. The original staff, who were at odds with the current management structure, were either fired or have willingly resigned. Also, there were claims that some of the volunteers were verbally abused.[22] As a result, David Leighton resigned as OOC President in 1982, after only five months on the job. Therefore, Bill Pratt, a former general manager of the Calgary Stampede, became the new OOC President shortly afterwards.[22][49] The City of Calgary and the Canadian Olympic Association (COA) delegated officially all Olympic responsibilities, including staging the Winter Olympics under the Olympic Charter, to the renamed OCO'88 in February and September 1983 respectively.[49]

However, conflicts within OCO'88 grew in the public eye and a review of the entire management structure was conducted, after Ralph Klein threatened it with a public inquiry in 1986.[28] Thus, Frank King remained as CEO, but with the addition of more full time staff. Also, a number of volunteer committees were created to organize some 9,000 volunteers for the Winter Olympics.[28] Despite these changes, there was still some animosity within OCO'88. Kevin Walmsley noted that Bill Pratt and Frank King continued to have a tense relationship with each other.[24] Some members of the news media commented that the changes made further alienated the general public, with a CTV producer, Ralph Mellanby, describing it as "an oilman’s and cattleman’s Calgary thing."[24] Long-time IOC member Dick Pound, in behalf of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), went on record to say that the IOC grew increasingly frustrated, in which that it saw the actions of OCO'88 as a refusal to collaborate with them.[24]


The 1988 Winter Olympic Games coincided with a shift in television policy by the International Olympic Committee and growing enthusiasm by broadcasters in the United States. Amendments to the Olympic Charter in 1977 established a policy mandating joint television rights involving the IOC and the local organizing committee, and was enshrined in the 1981 bid agreement for the Calgary games.[50]

The joint negotiating committee convened in late-January at the Lausanne Palace prior to the Sarajevo games in 1984 to negotiate the Calgary television contracts with American broadcasters.[51] The co-negotiating committee was represented by Dick Pound for the IOC, Bill Wardle for OCO and consultant Barry Frank. The co-negotiating committee designed a new tender process for the television rights bid with an emphasis on creating a level playing field for all broadcasters. For the first time, the negotiations were based on a series of sealed bids and representatives from ABC, CBS and NBC vied for the opportunity to broadcast the Games.[50]

After six rounds of sealed bids, the ABC delegation led by producer Roone Arledge was successful with a record agreement paying US$309 million in exchange for exclusive rights for the games.[52][53] CBS exited the bidding process after the second round with a final offer of $257 million, while ABC and NBC both reached the fifth round with an offer of $300 million.[50][53] In the sixth and final stage, the IOC and OCO decided a coin flip would determine which of ABC or NBC had the right to submit the first bid, or defer, and decision neither network supported.[53] NBC's president of sports Arthur A. Watson elected to call the coin-flip, although he remained silent on the first flip, so a second coinflip was required, and NBC won with a choice of "heads", and after 30 minutes of deliberation submitted a $304 million bid.[53] ABC's representative Arledge made a quick phone call to executive Fred Pierce, and ABC submitted a $309 million bid exceeded the NBC bid by $5 million.[50][53] ABC's record setting bid was immediately controversial, first Arledge had exceeded the maximum allowable bid set by ABC's executives by $34 million, and in the coming weeks ABC's coverage of the 1984 Winter Olympics which cost $91.5 million[28][54] returned poor Nielsen ratings.[52] Early estimates speculated the network would lose $50-$60 million televising the games.[52] The Wall Street Journal described the NBC agreement as the "biggest prize of the [1984] Winter Olympics".[52] The deal, at the time the highest amount ever paid for a sporting event, allowed organizers to announce the Games would be debt-free.[55]

The negotiations with American television broadcasters was in sharp contrast to negotiations for Western European rights with the European Broadcasting Union quickly closing an exclusive deal with the IOC for US$5.7 million led by Juan Antonio Samaranch and Marc Hodler on behalf of the IOC.[56] The Calgary Herald headline after the announcement negatively reflected on the "bargain" the European network received, and OCO'88 chairman Frank King publicly expressed his disappointment with the IOC.[56] Samaranch's argument for providing for a privileged negotiation with EBU was ensuring European viewers had equal access and coverage of the games, something he did not believe would occur if private networks from each nation were provided the opportunity to bid.[56] Dick Pound was critical of the decision and argued more revenue could be brought in from British and Italian networks alone and the privileged status suppressed the willingness of the EBU to make a market value bid on the games.[57]

The CTV Television Network won the bid to broadcast the Games in Canada in December 1983, paying C$4.5 million for the exclusive rights.[58][59] CTV also won the $23.5 million contract to serve as the host broadcaster, responsible for the manpower and equipment to televise the games.[58] The competitive bid for Canadian television rights was the first to occur since an agreement was made between CBC and CTV in 1978 to split broadcasting rights as bid prices continued to rise. The previous arrangement had CBC provide full coverage for Summer Games with CTV broadcasting a nightly summary, while CTV had the rights to Winter Games with CBC broadcasting a nightly summary.[60] The nightly summary of the Games was also televised on CBC.[61][62]

The Japanese broadcast rights were awarded to NHK in July 1986 for US$3.9 million.[63]

OCO'88 made several alterations to the Olympic program as part of efforts to ensure value for its broadcast partners. Premier events, including ice hockey and figure skating, were scheduled for prime time and the Games were lengthened to 16 days from the previous 12 to ensure three weekends of coverage.[64] However, a significant downturn in advertising revenue for sporting events resulted in ABC forecasting significant financial losses on the Games. Calgary organizers appreciated their fortunate timing in signing the deal. King described the timing of the contract with ABC as "the passing of the sun and the moon at the right time for Calgary".[61][62] The revenue growth from broadcasting was significant for the Calgary Games, the 1980 Lake Placid Games generated US$20.7 million, while OCO'88 generated $324.9 million in broadcast rights.[65] ABC lost an estimated $60 million, and broadcast rights to the 1992 Winter Olympics were later sold to the CBS network for $243 million, a 20 per cent reduction compared to Calgary.[66]

Ticketing controversies[edit]

A series of ticket-related scandals plagued the organizing committee as the Games approached, resulting in widespread public anger.[67] Demand for tickets was high, particularly for the premier events which had sold out a year in advance. Residents had been promised that only 10 per cent of tickets would go to "Olympic insiders", IOC officials and sponsors, but OCO'88 was later forced to admit that up to 50 percent of seats to top events had gone to insiders.[33] The organizing committee, which was subsequently chastised by mayor Klein for running a "closed shop", admitted that it had failed to properly communicate the obligations it had to supply IOC officials and sponsors with priority tickets.[68]

These events were preceded by OCO'88's ticketing manager being charged with theft and fraud after he sent modified ticket request forms to Americans that asked them to pay in United States funds rather than Canadian and to return them to his company's post office box rather than that of the organizing committee. The American dollar was trading 40 cents higher than the Canadian dollar, which led to significant profits through currency conversion.[69][24][70] The ticket manager maintained his innocence claiming he was used as a scapegoat and credit card company Visa was responsible for the error, despite his claims, he was convicted of fraud, theft, and forgery, and sentenced to 5 years in prison.[71]

Organizers attempted to respond to public concern by asking sponsors to consider reducing their orders and by paying $1.5 million to add 2,600 seats to the Saddledome, as well as increase capacity for ski jumping, alpine skiing and the opening and closing ceremonies.[70] King also noted that the Calgary Games offered a then-record 1.9 million tickets for sale,[70] three times the amount available at Sarajevo or Lake Placid, and that 79 percent of them were going to Calgarians.[70][68] By their start, a Winter Games' record of over 1.4 million tickets had been sold,[72] a figure that eclipsed the previous three Winter Games combined.[73] In the OCO's final report, the Committee admits the culmination of fraud charges, large portion of premier tickets requested by Olympic insiders, and poor communications led to a negative public reaction to the ticketing process.[70]


Two polar bear mascots with fuzzy white fur. The female is wearing a blue dress, the male a blue vest. They each wear a red bandana and cowboy hat.
Hidy and Howdy were the mascots of the Calgary Games.

The city, which already had a strong volunteering tradition with the annual Calgary Stampede, also relied heavily on volunteers to run the Olympics. Over 22,000 people signed up to fill 9,400 positions, no matter how inglorious: doctors, lawyers and executives offered to clean manure dropped by horses at the opening ceremonies.[74] Many residents participated in a "Homestay" program, opening their homes to visitors from around the world and renting rooms to those who could not stay in a hotel.[33]

Klein was among those who felt it necessary that the event be community driven, a decision which allowed the city's welcoming spirit to manifest.[75] The Games' mascots, Hidy and Howdy, were designed to evoke images of "western hospitality".[76] The smiling, cowboy-themed polar bears were popular across Canada. Played by a team of 150 students from Bishop Carroll High School, the sister-brother pair made up to 300 appearances per month in the lead up to the Games.[77][78] From their introduction at the closing ceremonies of the Sarajevo Games in 1984 until their retirement at the conclusion of the Calgary Games, the pair made about 50,000 appearances.[77] The iconic mascots graced signs welcoming travelers to Calgary for nearly two decades until they were replaced in 2007.[79] The mascots names "Hidy" and "Howdy" were chosen by a public contest.[47]


Held at a price of C$829 million, the Calgary Olympics cost more to stage than any previous Games, summer or winter.[72] The high cost was anticipated, as organizers were aware at the outset of their bid that most facilities would have to be constructed.[20] The venues, constructed primarily with public money, were designed to have lasting use beyond the Games and were planned to become the home of several of Canada's national winter sports teams.[80]

The Games were a major economic boon for the city which had fallen into its worst recession in 40 years following the collapse of both oil and grain prices in the mid-1980s.[73][81] A report prepared for the city in January 1985 estimated the games would create 11,100 man-years of employment and generate C$450-million in salaries and wages.[82] In its post-Games report, OCO'88 estimated the Olympics created C$1.4 billion in economic benefits across Canada during the 1980s, 70 percent within Alberta, as a result of capital spending, increased tourism and new sporting opportunities created by the facilities.[83]

Torch relay[edit]

The 1988 Olympic torch relay began on November 15, 1987, when the torch was lit at Olympia and Greek runner Stelios Bisbas began what was called "the longest torch run in history".[84] The flame arrived in St. John's, Newfoundland on the Atlantic Ocean two days later and over 88 days, traveled west across all 10 Canadian provinces and two territories.[85][86][32] It passed through most major cities, north to the Arctic Ocean at Inuvik, Northwest Territories, then west to the Pacific Ocean at Victoria, British Columbia before returning east to Alberta, and finally Calgary.[87] The torch covered a distance of 18,000 kilometres (11,000 mi), the greatest distance for a torch relay in Olympic history until the 2000 Sydney Games, and a sharp contrast to the 1976 Montreal Games when the relay covered only 775 kilometres (482 mi).[88]

The identity of the final torchbearer who would light the Olympic cauldron was one of Organizing Committee's most closely guarded secrets.[89] The relay began at St. John's with Barbara Ann Scott and Ferd Hayward representing Canada's past Olympians, and ended with Ken Read and Cathy Priestner carrying the torch into McMahon Stadium representing the nation's current Olympians.[90] They then stopped to acknowledge the contribution of para-athlete Rick Hansen and his "Man in Motion" tour[91] before handing the torch to 12-year-old Robyn Perry, an aspiring figure skater who was selected to represent future Olympians, to light the cauldron.[89][92]

Olympic Torch[edit]

1988 Winter Olympic Torch

The design of the Olympic Torch for the Calgary games was influenced by the landmark building of the Calgary skyline, the Calgary Tower.[93] The National Research Council Canada developed the design for the Torch,[93] which was constructed of maple, aluminum, and hardened steel, entirely Canadian materials, the torch was designed to remain lit despite the sometimes adverse conditions of Canadian winters.[94] The Torch had to be light enough for relay runners to carry comfortably, and the final design came in at 60 centimeters in length and 1.7 kilograms in weight.[93][32][95] The maple handle portion included laser-incised pictograms of the 10 official Olympic Winter sports, and lettering was engraved on the steel caldron portion.[93] The torch used two types of fuel to allow a continuous burn during the unpredictable Canadian winter, the fuel used a combination of gasoline, kerosene and alcohol.[93] Approximately 100 torches were manufactured for the Games.[93]

Event highlights[edit]

The 1988 Winter Games began on February 13 with a $10 million opening ceremony in front of 60,000 spectators at McMahon Stadium that featured 5,500 performers,[96] an aerial flyover by the Royal Canadian Air Force's Snowbirds,[97] the parade of nations and the release of 1,000 homing pigeons.[96] Canadian composer David Foster performed the instrumental theme song ("Winter Games") and its vocal counterpart ("Can't You Feel It?"),[98] while internationally recognized Canadian folk/country musicians Gordon Lightfoot singing Four Strong Winds and Ian Tyson performing Alberta Bound were among the featured performers.[98][99] Governor General Jeanne Sauvé opened the Games on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II as an estimated 1.5 billion people watched the ceremony.[100][101]

A female figure skater points with her right arm as she performs
Katarina Witt won gold in women's figure skating

The weather was a dominant story throughout much of the Games, as strong chinook winds that brought daily temperatures as high as 17 °C (63 °F) wreaked havoc on the schedules for outdoor events. Events were delayed when winds were deemed unsafe for competitors and organizers used artificial snow making equipment to ensure skiing venues were properly prepared.[102] It was the first time in Olympic history that alpine events were held on artificial snow.[103] The Games were also marred by the death of the Austrian ski team's doctor, Joerg Oberhammer, on February 25 after a collision with another skier sent him crashing into a snow grooming machine at Nakiska, crushing and killing him instantly. The incident was ruled an accident.[104]

The top individual competitors at the Olympics were Finnish ski jumper Matti Nykänen and Dutch speed skater Yvonne van Gennip as they each won three gold medals.[6][8][103] Italy's Alberto Tomba won gold in two skiing events, his first of five career Olympic medals en route to becoming the first alpine skier to win medals at three Winter Games.[105] East Germany's Katarina Witt defended her 1984 gold medal in women's figure skating, capturing a second gold in Calgary.[105] Her compatriot Christa Rothenburger won the gold medal in the 1000 metre race in speed skating, then went on to win a silver medal in the team sprint cycling event at the 1988 Summer Games to become the only person in Olympic history to win medals at both Olympic Games in the same year.[103] The Soviet Union won gold in hockey as Scandinavian neighbours Finland and Sweden took silver and bronze, respectively.[106]

As it had in 1976, Canada again failed to win an official gold medal as the host of an Olympic Games.[107] Canadians won two gold medals in demonstration events, including by Sylvie Daigle as one of her five medals in short-track speed skating.[108] Canada's top official performances came in figure skating where Brian Orser and Elizabeth Manley each won silver medals. Promoted by the media as the "Battle of the Brians"—the competition between Orser and American rival Brian Boitano—and the "Battle of the Carmens"—between Witt and American rival Debi Thomas, who had both elected to skate to Bizet's Carmen in their long programs—were the marquee events of the Games. Boitano won the gold medal over Orser by only one-tenth of a point.[109] Witt won the gold while Thomas won the bronze medal.[110] Manley was not viewed as a medal contender, but skated the greatest performance of her career to come within a fraction of Witt's gold medal winning score.[105]

American speed skater Dan Jansen's personal tragedy was one of the more poignant events of the Games as he skated the 500 metre race mere hours after his sister Jane died of leukemia.[111] A gold medal favourite, Jansen chose to compete as he felt it is what his sister would have wanted. Viewers around the world witnessed his heartbreak as he fell and crashed into the outer wall in the first quarter of his heat.[112] In the 1000 metre race four days later, Jansen was on a world record pace when he again fell. After failing again in Albertville, Jansen finally won a gold medal at the 1994 Lillehamer Games.[113]

A woman with shoulder length, curly hair and a man with short, curly hair bump fists. They are both in white coats with dark shoulders
The Netherlands' Yvonne van Gennip (left) won three gold medals in Calgary

One of the most popular athletes from the games was British ski jumper Michael Edwards, who gained infamy by placing last in both the 70 and 90 metre events finishing 70 and 53 points behind his next closest competitor, respectively.[105][114] Edwards' "heroic failure" made him an instant celebrity; he went from earning £6,000 per year as a plasterer before the Games to making £10,000 per hour per appearance afterward.[115] Left embarrassed by the spectacle he created, the IOC altered the rules following Calgary to eliminate each nation's right to send at least one athlete and set minimum competition standards for future events.[116] Regardless, the President of the Organizing Committee, Frank King, playfully saluted Edwards' unorthodox sporting legacy, which would also be commemorated with a 2016 feature film, Eddie the Eagle.[117]

The Jamaican bobsleigh team, making their nation's Winter Olympic debut, was also popular in Calgary.[105] The team was the brainchild of a pair of Americans who recruited individuals with strong sprinting ability from the Jamaican military to form the team.[118] Dudley Stokes and Michael White finished the two-man event in 30th place out of 41 competitors and launched the Jamaican team into worldwide fame.[105] The pair, along with Devon Harris and Chris Stokes, crashed in the four-man event, but were met with cheers from the crowd as they pushed their sled across the finish line.[118] Their odyssey was made into the 1993 movie Cool Runnings, a largely fictionalized comedy by Walt Disney Pictures.[119]

Medal table[edit]

A set of medals from the Games on display at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.

  *   Host nation (Canada)

1 Soviet Union (URS)119929
2 East Germany (GDR)910625
3 Switzerland (SUI)55515
4 Finland (FIN)4127
5 Sweden (SWE)4026
6 Austria (AUT)35210
7 Netherlands (NED)3227
8 West Germany (FRG)2428
9 United States (USA)2136
10 Italy (ITA)2125
11 France (FRA)1012
12 Norway (NOR)0325
13 Canada (CAN)*0235
14 Yugoslavia (YUG)0213
15 Czechoslovakia (TCH)0123
16 Japan (JPN)0011
 Liechtenstein (LIE)0011
Totals (17 nations)464646138

Podium sweeps[edit]

Date Sport Event NOC Gold Silver Bronze
February 18 Luge Women's singles  East Germany Steffi Walter-Martin Ute Oberhoffner-Weiß Cerstin Schmidt
February 25 Cross-country skiing Women's 20 kilometre freestyle  Soviet Union Tamara Tikhonova Anfisa Reztsova Raisa Smetanina

Records in speed skating[edit]

All of the long track world (WR) and Olympic records (OR) that occurred during these Games were later broken at succeeding Winter Olympics and other world events.[30]

Date Event NOC Name Time
February 14 Men's 500 metres  East Germany Uwe-Jens Mey 36.45 (WR)
February 17 Men's 5000 metres  Sweden Tomas Gustafson 6:44.63 (OR)
February 18 Men's 1000 metres  Soviet Union Nikolay Gulyayev 1:13.03 (OR)
February 20 Men's 1500 metres  East Germany André Hoffmann 1:52.06 (WR)
February 21 Men's 10000 metres  Sweden Tomas Gustafson 13:48.20 (WR)
February 22 Women's 500 metres  United States Bonnie Blair 39.10 (WR)
February 23 Women's 3000 metres  Netherlands Yvonne van Gennip 4:11.94 (WR)
February 26 Women's 1000 metres  East Germany Christa Luding-Rothenburger 1:17.65 (WR)
February 27 Women's 1500 metres  Netherlands Yvonne van Gennip 2:00.68 (OR)
February 28 Women's 5000 metres  Netherlands Yvonne van Gennip 7:14.13 (WR)


Canada Olympic Park in 2006

Prior to 1988, the Winter Olympics were viewed as a second-rate event, in comparison to the Summer Olympics. The IOC had, at one point, considered eliminating it altogether.[64] First, there are only a few mountainous areas in the world that would be able to host the Winter Olympics. Second, there were major challenges in generating revenues for the host city and the IOC from such Games.[120] However, CODA convinced the IOC that it could not only generate enough revenues to make a profit, but have enough money left over to ensure a lasting legacy of winter sport development.[64] OCO'88 followed mainly the example of LAOOC that organized the 1984 Summer Olympics. Under LAOOC's president, Peter Ueberroth, he was able to attract a large United States television contract and Los Angeles became the first Olympic host city to benefit from a change in the IOC's strategy on corporate sponsorship.[120] For the 1988 Winter Olympics, OCO'88 attracted financial support from over two dozen major Canadian and multinational corporations, in order to generate millions of dollars in revenues.[59]

For OCO'88, it foresaw some winter sports, like the debut of the Super-G and other new winter sport events, as a way to increase the audience's appeal of the Winter Olympics. Thus, for the sponsors, the Games' length of time to 16 days provided an extra weekend of Olympic media coverage to the world. This additional programming time was filled mainly by TV-friendly demonstration events that are popular in Canada. The 1988 Winter Olympics' exposure to the curling, the freestyle skiing, and the short track speed skating events in Calgary influenced the worldwide popularity of all of them. So much so that all these events became the new and official Olympic ones by the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.[120]

Impact on Calgary[edit]

Hosting the Winter Olympics helped fuel a significant increase in Calgary's reputation on the world stage.[75] Crosbie Cotton, a reporter for the Calgary Herald who covered the city's Olympic odyssey from its 1979 initiative to the closing ceremonies, noted an increased positive outlook of the city's population over time. He believed that the populace began to outgrow its "giant inferiority complex" that is "typically Canadian", by replacing it with a new level of confidence as the Games approached.[121] This outcome helped the city grow from a regional oil and gas centre, best known for the Calgary Stampede, to a destination for international political, economic, and sporting events.[75] A study prepared for the organizing committee of the 2010 Winter Olympics, (VANOC), claimed that Calgary hosted over 200 national and international sporting competitions between 1987 and 2007, due to the facilities it had constructed for these Olympic Games.[122]

The Games' enduring popularity within Calgary has been attributed to efforts in making them "everybody's Games." Aside from the sense of community fostered by the high level of volunteer support, OCO'88 included the general public in other ways. For example, the citizens were given an opportunity to purchase a brick with their names engraved on it. Those bricks were used to build the Olympic Plaza, where the medal ceremonies were held in 1988. It remains a popular public park and event site in the city's downtown core today.[123]

After the success of these Olympic Games, Calgary was wanting to bring back the Olympic experience again. It offered, to the IOC, in becoming a possible alternate host city of the 2002 Winter Olympics, after a bidding scandal resulted in a speculation that Salt Lake City would not be able to remain the host city.[124] Next, the city was attempting to be Canada's bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics, but the COC decided to give it to Vancouver.[125] Later, a 2013 Calgary Sun online poll found that 81% of respondents said they would support the idea of hosting another Winter Olympics.[126] On November 13, 2018, Calgary held a public non-binding plebiscite on whether it should bid to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. On November 19, 2018, the results of the plebiscite showed that 56.4% (171,750) of eligible voters said "No", while 43.6% (132,832) of them said "Yes." Therefore, the city council concluded that the bid would be withdrawn.[127]

Canada's development as a winter sport nation[edit]

Canada increased its medal totals in each successive Winter Games from Calgary until Vancouver in 2010.

In light of the 1976 Summer Olympics disastrous financial legacy,[128] the Calgary Olympic organizing committee, OCO'88, parlayed its ability to generate television and sponsorship revenues, along with the three levels of government support, into what was ultimately a C$170 million surplus.[64] While OCO'88 reported officially a surplus after the Games were over, the accounting practices of the final report did not include federal, provincial, and municipal capital and operations funding infrastructures.[129][130]

The overall surplus was turned into endowment funds that was split between Canada Olympic Park (C$110 million) and CODA. They were subsequently reformed later, in order to manage the Olympic facilities with a trust fund that had grown steadily to be worth over C$200 million by 2013.[64] Consequently, all five primary facilities built for the 1988 Winter Olympics remained operational for their intended purposes, 25 years after the Games concluded.[131] Calgary and Canmore became the heart of winter sport in Canada, as CODA (now known as WinSport) established itself as the nation's leader in developing elite winter athletes. For the 2006 Winter Olympics, a quarter of Canada's Olympic winter athletes were from the Calgary region and three-quarters of its medalists were from or trained in Alberta.[122]

Before 1988, Canada was not a winter sports power. The nation's five overall medals won in Calgary was its second best total at a Winter Olympics, behind the seven overall medals it won at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.[132] After 1988, Canada won an increasing number of gold and overall medals at each successive Winter Olympics.[133] It culminated toward an overall performance of 26 medals won at the 2010 Winter Olympics, which included an Olympic record of 14 gold medals. This achievement was more than the previous record of 13 Olympic gold medals won by both the Soviet Union in 1976 and Norway in 2002.[134] Until 2010, Norway won the most Olympic gold medals on home soil at the 1952 Winter Olympics. At the 2018 Winter Olympics, Canada earned its highest overall medal count in the Winter Olympics to date, with a total of 29 medals.[135]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The emblem is a stylized, pentagon-shaped, snowflake and maple leaf. It is made up of five large and five small letters of "C." The large "C"s symbolizes the country of Canada. The small "c"s symbolizes the city of Calgary. The whole emblem is above the Olympic rings.
  2. ^ The figure in parentheses represents the number of athletes each nation brought to the Games, including both medal and demonstration sports and whether or not they competed, as recorded in the XV Olympic Winter Games Official Report.[38]


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Official reports[edit]

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

External video
video icon The Official Calgary 1988 Winter Olympic Film on YouTube
Winter Olympics
Preceded by XV Olympic Winter Games

Succeeded by