Calgary / Canmore Olympic Legacy
It was January 2008, Canmore Alberta. Chandra Crawford pulled ahead of her freestyle sprint competitors with the same, powerful, flowing stride she used in 2006 to win Olympic gold in Torino, Italy.
The roar that emanated from the home-town crowd watching Crawford win her first World Cup race on her home trails was even bigger than the 2500 metre peaks that cradle the town and its namesake, the Canmore Nordic Centre.
But while TV cameras, including one operated by her father Glen, a professional cameraman, captured the moment for the world to see, they were long gone by the time Crawford and teammate Sara Renner inspired a smaller, yet monumentally important audience – the steady stream of local Jackrabbit skiers who patiently lined up to have their heroes autograph their jackets and skis. Maybe, just maybe, the next Olympic medallist was among them.
When Canmore hosted the cross-country and biathlon events of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, the town was home to a few thousand residents who enjoyed a quiet life amidst the surrounding peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
As Canmore was exposed to tourists and developers, the Canmore Nordic Centre was established as a world-class training and racing facility. Since then, beginning with Beckie Scott, who earned North America’s first cross-country skiing medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Canada has steadily asserted itself as a cross-country skiing nation. And with only 12,000 full-time residents (and another 5,800 part-time homeowners), Canmore is an undisputable hub.
Renner, who won silver in Torino with teammate Scott, and World Cup silver in Canmore in 2005 clearly remembers the ’88 Nordic Centre events; “I was only 12 years old. I’d never actually seen a cross-country ski race before,” Renner recalls. “I went up there with my family and I was completely blown away by the whole scene. I decided that was it; that was my dream. I wanted to go to the Olympics. There are definitely a lot of factors that all work together to help form an athlete, but, if Canmore hadn’t had the Olympics, I don’t think we’d see so many people so into it.”
Alain Parent, program director for the Canmore Nordic Ski Club, agrees: “The club is booming with young people, and I think it has a direct link to the success of our Olympians,” Parent said.
What’s far more influential than watching televised medal ceremonies, he insists, is the Olympic level community spirit Canmore athletes display toward their young fans.
“Sara and Chandra are both so personable, they connect so well with the younger generation,” Parent said. “They can really relate. They grew up in town, and they take their roles seriously. The kids now are inspired to the point most kids will at least try crosscountry skiing. And some will go on.”
For the 2010 season, nearly 300 youths under 14 are Canmore Nordic Ski Club members – a remarkable number in a town with only 850 school students under 14.
As one of hundreds lining Main Street in 2006 for a post-Olympic parade celebrating the Bow Valley’s downhill, cross-country, biathlon and Paralympic athletes – 19 in total – Peter Hicks, 13, collected national cross-country team skiers’ autographs on a poster that hangs on his wall, fuelling his own Olympic dreams.
“They always say how their dreams were to go to the World Cup, or to the Olympics,” Peter said. “They’re really inspiring, and you think, I want to be like that when I’m older.” Peter’s sister, Annika, 18, started racing three years ago. In 2008, she won the overall Alberta Cup for her age category and in 2009 finished second at the Nationals in Duntroon, Ontario in a 10 kilometre race.
After participating as a leader at Chandra Crawford’s Fast and Female Camps, aimed at building confidence in young women through an active lifestyle, Annika found herself signing posters for six and eight year-old skiers.
“It’s amazing how you can be a role model and not even know it,” Annika said. “I never expected to be in that position. But being a skier in Canmore, everyone gets along so well, we all know each other. The dynamic is amazing.” And, added Renner, the Canmore Nordic Centre is a big help too.
“Now after travelling all over the world, I know how lucky we are to have the Nordic Centre,” Renner said. Call it the Alberta advantage!
~By Lynn Martel
Lynn Martel arrived in Banff in 1982 as a university student from Montréal. Since 2002 she’s been freelancing full-time, focusing on mountain adventure. Her first book, “Expedition to the Edge: Stories of Worldwide Adventure”, is a collection of 60 of her most entertaining articles.