Calgary and the Making of Olympic History

Saturday night was relatively uneventful for our first night in Canada, as we spent the wee hours in a Lethbridge, AB Walmart parking lot. The next morning, however, I awoke to what I can only describe as a “thump” followed by a “squawk”. Then again, “thump-squawk”…. “Thump-squawk”. Bleary-eyed, I peeked out the window to find a flock of seagulls milling around the trailer. Every once in a while one would land on our roof, to the annoyance of the one or two gulls that were already perched up there. And each time, the new bird would be berated by one of the others with a loud “SQUAWK”! As soon as I opened the door, they all retreated to a safe distance, now squawking what I can only assume was a message of similar displeasure. Boots was none too thrilled; but I was mostly confused…. What the hell were all these seagulls doing in Lethbridge, AB, anyway. Did they not know they were 600 miles from the nearest ocean?

Let me at him! Let me at him!

The question would have to remain unanswered as we made our way north to Calgary, home of the 1988 winter olympics. Calgary was a special year. Prior to 1988, the winter games paled in popularity compared to their summer counterparts. In fact, in the immediately preceding years the International Olympic Committee actually considered eliminating the winter games altogether, mainly due to minimal revenue-generation and lack of robust bidding by potential host cities. Calgary changed everything. The 1988 games broke every record

Calgary skyline behind the ski jump tower.

for popularity and revenue generation, largely due to the enormous, and then-controversial investments by the City and other sponsors.  Calgary, AB single-handedly saved the winter olympics.

The Jamaicans’ famous sled

It wasn’t a particularly good year for the US, with only 6 medals. By contrast, the Soviet Union (not yet dissolved) won 29. But probably the most remembered legacy of the Calgary games is the story of the Jamaican bobsled team, the saga upon which the movie Cool Runnings was based. Jamaica, not exactly considered a “winter sport kind of country” actually fielded a team for an event in 1988… bobsledding. But what probably should have only been a comical asterisk in the competitive annals, ended up ascending to the very pinnacle of olympic legend, largely due to the American media.  With the elimination of the US ice hockey team early in tournament play , American television struggled to find a focus for coverage.  Enter the Jamaicans…

The infamous Kreisel Turn on the Calgary bobsled track.

Americans, ever in search of an underdog for whom to root, absolutely fell in love with the Jamaicans. Consistent with expectations, the team wasn’t doing particularly well. They had come in 24th and 25th in their first two runs respectively. But it was the next run that made history. Coming into the treacherous “Kreisel Turn” on what would be their third and final run, the Jamaicans lost control and flipped their sled, rendering it inoperable.

Tourists can ride a bobsled down the track if they so desire (and pay enough money)

Their hopes dashed, it was then, in a gesture of true olympian spirit, that the four young Jamaican athletes hoisted their ruined sled onto their shoulders and trotted it down the remainder of the track, thus earning a very special and permanent place in the hearts of everyone who watched. It was one of those sports moments that can make the toughest guys cry, right up there with Rudy Rutiger playing the last couple of plays of his Notre Dame college career, or Rocky Balboa going the unlikely distance with the World Heavyweight Champion (the latter admittedly fiction).

The picture of health!



Boots and I ended up staying in Calgary for a couple of days. Alaska requires that any animals entering the state be certified by a veterinarian as “healthy” within 30 days of entry. As such, we scheduled a veterinary appointment for her, Calgary being the last large city through which we will pass before Anchorage. In case you’re wondering, she passed her physical exam with flying colors.  So now we’re down to just driving the remaining 1500+ miles to the Alaskan border. We managed to burn around 185 of them today, as I’m finishing up this post from yet another Walmart Parking lot, this time in Drayton Valley, AB. Like the adage goes:  How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  See you down the road!

Mahalo Y’all!