In 1988, Canada and South Korea hosted the Winter and Summer Olympics in the same year. That year, the Winter Olympics were hosted in my hometown of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
There were “firsts.” It was the first year that freestyle skiing was introduced as an Olympic sport. A German athlete went on to Korea and became the first to win medals in both Olympics in the same year. There was heartbreak and inspiration. American speedskater Dan Jansen’s personal tragedy was one of the more poignant events of those games when he raced mere hours after his sister Jane died of leukemia. A gold medal favorite, he fell and crashed in the first quarter of his heat. In the 1000-meter race four days later, Jansen was on a world record pace when he again fell. The Calgary games are also remembered, in movie form, for the “heroic failure” of British ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards and the Olympic debut of the Jamaica National Bobsled Team.
Weather was a dominant story throughout much of the games, as the famous Calgary chinook winds brought daily temperatures as high as 17 degrees Celsius melting snow and threatening all outdoor events. However Western hospitality, artificial snow and the participation of volunteers to staff the games (over 22,000 people signed up to fill 9,400 positions) ensured that it was a spectacular and successful Olympic Games. It left behind a legacy of pride and world-class sport facilities.
In the summer of 1988, Seoul stepped forward to host their Olympics. Again, there were wonderful stories of the human spirit and the drama of competition. Lawrence Lemieux, a Canadian sailor, was in second place and poised to win a silver medal when he abandoned the race to save an injured competitor. Soviet Vladimir Artemov won four gold medals in gymnastics. And who can forget gymnast Nadia Comaneci‘s record of seven perfect 10s in one Olympic Games. US diver Greg Louganis won back-to-back titles on both diving events, but only after hitting the springboard with his head in the 3-meter event final. Suriname and Indonesia athletes both won Olympic medals for their countries for the first time. Another successful Olympic Games.
Thirty years later, much has changed. I am now an Ambassador for Canada living in the Czech Republic. And my close friend from Calgary, and university days, now has a daughter who is an Olympian: luge athlete Alex Gough. Alex was 1 year old in 1988 and the Olympic Park, built for those games, became her future training ground. Now in Korea, little girls and boys will also have this advantage for their future.
So, I will travel from Prague to PyeongChang, to meet others coming from Canada, the USA and Australia, all to cheer on Alex and her team. We are Calgarians but now spread around the world and coming together to support our Canadian athletes. It will be a special moment of reunion and a special moment of pride for me as a Canadian Ambassador.
We will leap for joy with the triumphs of the games and weep with emotion for the heartbreaks. We’ll be screaming for Alex and the Canadian team. We’ll be cheering for the Korean athletes. I’ll be cheering for the Czechs. We’ll be filled with emotion when we see our flag raised and sing our national anthem. And we’ll be surrounded by fans, from every part of the world, doing the same.
That is the spirit of the Olympic Games -- when all the world comes together. This year, maybe more than ever, the world needs this. Barbara Catherine Richardson
Barbara Catherine Richardson is ambassador of Canada to the Czech Republic. -- Ed.