CALGARY, Alberta: the Games.
Undated (AP) _ Now return to the Trans-Canada Highway and drive about one hour west to Nakiska.
It’s the mountain where Alberto Tomba barreled down a ribbon of white to win two alpine skiing gold medals as Italians at the finish line chanted in wild adulation, ″Tomba, Tomba, Tomba,″ and waved the green, white and red flag of their nation.
It’s the same mountain where 12-year-old Neil Korchinski quietly cuts through the hard crust.
″It’s icy. That’s why I like it,″ he said.
″It’s our favorite ski area,″ his father Barry, a Calgary geophysicist, said. ″The reason is, it’s uncrowded.″
Good for him, bad for Hugh Hancock.
As Nakiska’s marketing director, Hancock wants to lengthen the lift lines. While day trippers may go there, vacationers still prefer the prettier, more varied terrain in Banff, another hour to the west, with such areas as Lake Louise and Sunshine Village.
″We don’t have a wholesaler in Southern California or in New England who is actively selling Nakiska″ in tour packages, Hancock said. The area opened in the winter of 1986 and was closed to the public for much of last season so there’s little experience by which to measure the Olympic impact.
Get in the car and travel to nearby Canmore, site of the Nordic skiing events.
Lou Pomerance, who owns a western apparel store in downtown Calgary, did that. He went there last summer and raves about the scenery along the trails after the snow melted.
The winter scene isn’t as pretty.
Read said Canmore employees are stubborn about preparing trails for competitions without proper compensation if they work overtime.
″They say, ‘if you want us to groom the trails, here’s the bill,’ ″ he said. ″Amateur sport just can’t operate that way.″
Start the engine and head back into town to Stampede Park, home of the hockey arena.
This February, the Saddledome’s successful skaters are the Calgary Flames, dressed in red and yellow and belting the breath out of opponents with stiff checks. The Flames have the NHL’s best record.
Witt, clad in red and black, was much more graceful in her breathtaking performance to the music of ″Carmen″ on the same ice. It won her the women’s figure skating gold medal.
The following July in Stampede Park, the annual Calgary Stampede, featuring rodeos, chuckwagon racing and midway rides drew 1.2 million spectators, the most since it began in 1912. In a study of 1,765 out-of-towners during the Stampede, 21 percent said the Olympics influenced them to visit.
Compared with the same months in 1987, hotel occupancy in Calgary increased in each of the four months between the Olympics and the Stampede. It went from 53.6 percent to 58.8 in March, 51.8 to 55.8 in April, 52.7 to 61.4 in May and 62.1 to 71.2 in June.
″The numbers are up, which is possibly because of the Olympics, but it’s hard to tell why tourists do what they do,″ said Janis Cullen, coordinator for accommodation services of the Calgary Tourist and Convention Bureau. ″This year we’ve been getting anywhere from 20 to 30 calls a day for accommodations, which is amazing. We can usually operate with one person about this time of year. Now we have two and it’s still getting pretty dicey.″
Mayor Klein says convention business is ″booming.″ Calgary won a 1993 convention of barbershop singers, which Klein expects to bring in up to 15,000 people, with the help of the Olympics.
He said, ″The past president of the organization said, ‘I know you’ve bid before ... but, quite frankly, we didn’t know enough about you. This time we do and we liked what we saw, so it might be in you best interests to bid again.’ So we did.″
Calgary is a genuinely friendly city. A year after the Olympics, when its people no longer have to put on a happy face for the world to see, a conversation with a stranger still turns into a half-hour chat about one another’s families.
″At a reception during the Olympics I talked with a member of the Swedish Olympic Committee,″ King said. ″He said, ‘everywhere I’ve gone people are smiling. Obviously, you’ve been able to train 4,000 to 5,000 people to smile.’
″And I said, ‘thank you, but we didn’t spend five minutes training people to smile.’ ″
Time to stop at the Stephen Avenue Mall, a downtown shopping strip closed to traffic.
Park the car right there in that outdoor lot where a huge pin-trading tent with waiting lines stretching onto the mall used to be.
″It’s a dead city,″ Alnoor Versi said. ″It’s a cowtown. There’s nothing here.″
He is a partner in Harry’s News, a newspaper, magazine and souvenir shop on the mall that was packed during the Olympics. Then, sales were 10 times what they are now and he had seven or eight workers at all times, he said. Now he is one of two and has plenty of time to talk.
″I come from London, England,″ Versi, 32, said. ″There are millions there. This is like a desert. It’s been dead here, only local people.″
Klein hoped to enliven the downtown area and rekindle the Olympic spirit with a 10-day Winter Festival that began Feb. 10. Sports, such as a sled dog sprint, snowboarding and ski jumping, street performers, including mimes and jugglers, and cultural events, were featured.
The festival’s theme was ″Let’s Make Winter Magic Again.″ Its parade grand marshal was Eddie The Eagle. Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, spoke at Olympic Plaza last Monday, the anniversary of the opening ceremonies.
″I suspect this year’s festival would be somewhat of a local event,″ Klein said in his first-floor City Hall office across the street from Olympic Plaza. ″There will be some international exposure and perhaps next year it will become more of an international event.″
But the festival got little advance publicity and, dependent as it is on provincial and city government funding, there is no guarantee it will become an annual rite of winter.
″The Olympics were great, but I think we should allow them to pass gracefully into history,″ Graham Laughren, who works for a Calgary real estate company, said.
Now walk over to the plaza.
It is used daily for public skating. While a sound system blares ″I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo″ where anthems of dozens of nations once played, a mischievous teen-ager in red sneakers plays tag with skaters.
The area is lit for night skating. The fireworks and laser shows that gave sparkle to the evening medal ceremonies are gone.
Calgary is different now from what it was before the Olympics and what it was during them. The crowds they attracted are gone. The facilities and feelings they brought, remain.
Finally, stroll a few steps to a spot beside the plaza.
Sovak is chiseling a massive stegosaurus out of a mound of snow for the festival. Youngsters can climb to the peak of the hump and slide down the tail.
Dianne Bersea is helping him. At first, the Calgary artist didn’t feel the Olympic spirit. Then, surrounded by thousands, she attended a medal ceremony.
″I thought, ‘so, it’s just a big party, eh?’ But it was so much fun meeting people from all over the world,″ she says.
″When they put the Russian flag up - now, Calgary is not the center of the world, right? - but it made me catch my breath. I suddenly realized the international and cultural nature of the event. I suddenly realized all these people were in our country, my country.
″Oh, I’m getting goose bumps again just talking about it.″
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