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Ski jumping association gets nowhere with WinSport or government officials

By Kristy Koehler, March 15 2019 —

Mike Bodnarchuk, chair of the Alberta Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Association is trying to make the best of a bad situation. As previously reported by the Gauntlet, WinSport decommissioned the city’s iconic ski jumps and evicted Ski Jumping Alberta from their home on the property in late January, capping off a heated battle between the two organizations over funding.

It’s an issue that hasn’t received much coverage since the eviction. Bodnarchuk started a petition on Change.org gauging public opinion. Signed by over 12,000 people, the petition has been brought to the attention of Mayor Nenshi, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Kirsty Duncan, federal Minister of Science and Sport, via Twitter. None of the officials have publicly responded.

“There were crickets,” said Bodnarchuk. “Not a peep from anybody.”

The Gauntlet reached out to Duncan’s office for comment on the ski jumps. Duncan recently made statements regarding the sliding track at WinSport, appealing for a local solution to it’s funding issues. According to the Calgary Herald, WinSport is also considering the possibility of closing the track, used for bobsled, skeleton and luge. They’re once again citing maintenance costs, a scenario very similar to the one with the ski jumping facilities. In the case of the sliding track, however, the federal and provincial governments contributed just under $17 million, according to WinSport CEO Barry Heck’s statements to the Herald.

Daniele Medlej, press secretary for the Office of the Minister of Science and Sport, responded via email with a statement, printed below in its entirety:

“Our government understands that our world class athletes need world-class training facilities. That’s why we announced an additional $5 million annually to support our top athletes through the Athlete Assistance Program.

The Calgary ski jump facility was expected to close in 2015, but was kept open through 2018 so our athletes could train uninterrupted for the Pyeongchang Olympic Games.

The final decision to close the complex was made by WinSport, the beneficial owner and operator of Canada Olympic Park.

We know the tremendous value sport brings to our communities by inspiring us all and fostering healthy communities. We will continue to invest in the next generation of Olympic and Paralympic athletes so they can benefit from increased coaching and training support from the playground to the podium.”

Bodnarchuk thinks the statement is “lip service, rather banal and very disappointing.”

“My message to Minister Duncan would be, ‘Show us the money,’ ” he said. “WinSport was created as a home for unique, elite winter sports — the sliding sports and ski jumping.

They are facility-based. You can’t have those sports unless you have the facilities. Now we don’t have the facilities — how are we supposed to have the sport?”

Bodnarchuk says the government needs to step in.

“With the climate here in Alberta we can’t go around with our tin cup and ask people to contribute. It’s a very difficult thing at the moment,” he said. “There’s elections looming in the distance and politicians are very reluctant to start signing cheques whenever there’s the scent of political change in the air.”

The people impacted most by the ski jumps are amateur athletes, says Bodnarchuk.

“We’re at a very critical juncture with our athletes,” Bodnarchuk said. “We don’t have a place for our grassroots athletes to train. We need a pipeline — our pipeline is the young kids coming up being excited about the sport. Our pipeline is being cut off. We need a solution.”

Ski jumpers have nowhere to train that’s easily accessible from Calgary. A snow bump was built in Canmore, but Bodnarchuk says it just can’t properly mimic the feeling of skiing off a real jump. The other option is to travel to Whistler, British Columbia, a cost Bodnarchuk says can’t be put on the shoulders of athletes and their parents. Even if travel to Whistler were an option, the facilities there don’t have the transitional jump needed for athletes to move from smaller, training jumps to larger, competitive ones. Calgary was home to the only transitional jump in Canada.

Bodnarchuk and the Alberta Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Association are in the early stages of talks they hope will lead to the creation of a nordic centre in Calgary. Their vision is for a new facility usable for ski jumping, cross-country skiing and biathlon, among others sports. Currently, the closest such facility is in Canmore, 100 kilometres from the city’s northwest.

“We’ve given up on WinSport,” said Bodnarchuk. “It’s a lost cause. Quite frankly, I think it’s only a matter of time before their inept management drives that whole place into the ground. They’ve turned a once-proud Olympic legacy into a laughing stock around the world.”

WinSport did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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