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Calgary ski jumps slated for closure call future of the sport into question

By Kristy Koehler, October 31 2018 —

The future of ski jumping and Nordic combined in Canada has been called into question as the ski jumps at Canada Olympic Park are set to be decommissioned today.

WinSport has given Ski Jumping Canada an ultimatum — come up with $345,000 by the end of October, or the jumps will be closed. Mounting operational and repair costs, depleted private funding and WinSport’s inability to assist with financing have created a dire situation.

Seemingly accepting the closure, Calgary 2026 bid commission’s draft hosting plan listed Whistler Olympic Park for the ski jumping and Nordic combined events — the only other location for ski jumping in Canada.

The Calgary facility is the only location with a K63 ski jump — the mid-range jump between the smaller, training jump and the larger, Olympic-size jump. The K63 is necessary for training and athlete development.

Wesley Savill, a current University of Calgary student and former member of Canada’s national Nordic combined team, says that the loss of this jump would be devastating. Savill started competing internationally in 2005, skiied at two world championships and was the official alternate for Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He now coaches young ski jumpers, devoting his life to the advancement of the sport. Currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Kinesiology in ​Leadership in Pedagogy and Coaching, Savill wonders what will happen to the young athletes coming up in the sport.

“When you have a bunch of kids emotionally invested in the sport and its future is being brought into question, it’s hard,” said Savill.

Todd Stretch, chair of Ski Jumping Canada, agrees that losing the K63 jump would be a massive blow to the sport.

“It’s a very important hill,” Stretch said. “It’s the only one like it in the country.”

Stretch adds that this isn’t the first time the jumps have faced closures. The sport has received money in the past, both from the Canadian Olympic Foundation and private sponsors.

“We have been in this position a bunch of different times,” Stretch said. “We’re at the end of the term from that funding that came in from the sponsor. We’re working with multiple levels of government right now — they’ve been very supportive. We hope to have some good news.”

At Sport Calgary’s Celebration of Sport on Oct. 11, which took place at WinSport, member of the legislative assembly Deborah Drever was on hand to present a cheque for $500,000 to WinSport for various renewal and maintenance projects.

In a press release by the Alberta government, Barry Heck, president and CEO of WinSport was quoted saying:

“Thank you to the Government of Alberta for the Community Facility Enhancement Program funding. This funding helps WinSport continue to renew its end-of-life legacy assets and maintain our new ones to world-class standards so we continue to serve Calgarians and Albertans for generations to come.”

When asked whether this funding would assist with the maintenance of the ski jumps, Marion Nader, press secretary of culture and tourism for the province, had communications team member Ryan O’Byrne respond.

“In 201718, $500,000 in funding was provided through the Community Facility Enhancement (Large) Program and was put towards the renewal of Canada Olympic Park,” O’Byrne wrote. “The facility renewal involved 33 individual projects which began in the fall of 2017 and were completed in fall of 2018.”

O’Byrne’s email cited projects including snowmaking automation, LED lighting, road and outdoor stairway repairs, repairs to the Frank King Day Lodge, and maintenance and upgrading of décor and music but made no mention of the fate of the ski jump.

Ski jumping may not be a money-making sport, but for a nation that considers itself a winter-sports powerhouse, does that matter? The loss of the ski jumps would be the nail in the coffin for a sport we already struggle to excel in.

At the Winter Olympics, there are seven medals available across both sports: three in ski jumping and four in Nordic combined. Canada has never won an Olympic medal in either sport. The best finish for Nordic combined was in 1932 at Lake Placid, when Jostein Nordmoe placed 10th. Calgary was the site of Team Canada’s best ski jumping finish in 1988 when Horst Bulau placed seventh in the men’s individual large hill event.

Nearly every Winter Olympics, national pride reaches a fever pitch as Canadians celebrate our sporting success. The cult of winter is strong here, a long-held cultural phenomenon. Visit any sports bar during the Games and you’ll hear spectators lamenting our Olympic losses, wondering why we don’t fund our athletes the way other countries do.

The potential destruction of the ski jumps raises serious questions about the accessibility of winter sports training facilities for Canadian athletes and all but guarantees that we won’t be advancing in the sport any time soon.

Savill says he trusts in the leadership of Ski Jumping Canada, hoping for the best.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Stretch adds.

WinSport did not respond to request for comment by press time.

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