‘It’s such an important pillar of our community’: Calgary athletes worry about future of WinSport track, Olympic Oval
WinSport’s decision to close the bobsleigh and luge track in March could dramatically affect future generations of athletes in Calgary, according to athletes who use the facilities on a daily basis.
Plans to upgrade the luge and bobsleigh track at Calgary’s famed WinSport facility were shelved due to a funding shortfall and will result in the track closing in March, according to a letter sent to WinSport employees on Feb. 5.
“The province and the federal government had provided a total of just under $17 million to the project, but that they were $8 million short for the necessary work, and the end of the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic bid meant those funds are not immediately forthcoming,” WinSport said in February.
Several athletes who grew up in the city and have trained here for years said a permanent closure would not only change their lives, but also the face of the city forever.
Olympic bobsledder Helen Upperton built a life from the WinSport Ice House. It’s where she met her husband Olympic bobsledder and former CFL player Jesse Lumsden.
It’s also where she trained for the Olympics Games, resulting in a silver medal win at the 2010 Vancouver games.
“It’s such an important pillar of our community,” Upperton said. “We [Helen and Jesse] were both recruited into bobsleigh, like many athletes in the sliding sports, but in all the different sports that come to this city and build a life here because of the facilities.”
WATCH: It’s been over 30 years since Calgary held the Winter Olympic Games and now legacy venues are facing challenges. Adam MacVicar reports.
It’s hard to imagine what Calgary would look like had the facilities from the 1988 Winter Games never existed.
“Calgary is not just an oil and gas town and not just the Calgary Stampede, it’s much more than that,” Upperton said.
“There is an underlying sport economy in this city and this region that we have taken for granted for a really long time,” she added. “There are more world cups held here in Calgary and in the Bow Valley corridor than anywhere else in the world. I want to live somewhere, where we’re the best in the world at something.
“I think if we let this piece of our city and our culture die, I think it would be such a shame. And I personally don’t want to be here to see that happen.
“I want to fight to keep these facilities alive. And not for the one percent of people like me who pursue an Olympic dream, it’s for the thousands of kids, the thousands of jobs, the opportunities for people that live here.”
WATCH (Feb. 24): Earlier in February, WinSport announced it would be closing its sliding track due to a funding shortfall. On Sunday, the final World Cup event of the season wrapped up. Michael King reports.
For rookie Canadian bobsledder Ryan Sommer a closure would mean he would have to move elsewhere to keep his career alive.
“There would be no reason to stay in Calgary,” he said. “Whistler would be the other best option. They have a track there.”
Canadian bobsledder Justin Kripps, who recently brought home a gold medal from the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea said the loss of the track would have a negative impact on the community.
“It would be pretty devastating for the sliding sports if the track shut down. It brings a lot of positives to the community,” Kripps said. “A lot of people from around the word come and use the legacy facilities.”
The Olympic Oval’s fate is also up in the air. The world class facility, known for having the “fastest ice in the world,” is in need of millions of dollars worth of upgrades.
Young speedster Tyson Langelaar specifically moved from Winnipeg to Calgary to train the day after he graduated high school. Now, he may have to lay tracks elsewhere.
“You can train at ovals outside [but] even if Calgary had an outdoor facility… it’s only two months out of the year instead of 11 or even 12,” he said.
Langelaar said losing these facilities would also mean younger generations won’t get to see the winter sports for themselves.
“There’s a bunch of kids here [at the Oval] right now just doing public skating and if they stick around ten minutes after they take off their skates, they’re going to see the national team on ice and they’re amazed how fast you go… pretty inspiring,” Langelaar said.
WATCH BELOW: Mayor Nenshi responds to Calgary sliding track closure
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