22 february 2013

1988 Calgary Olympics ‘greatest Winter Games of all time’, CBC host argues


(Daniel Janin/AFP/Getty Images)
East German figure skating queen Katarina Witt was one stars of the 1988 Winter Games.

Scott Russell remembers the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics as the “time when Canadians fell in love with all winter sports”.

The CBC Sports Weekend senior host argues that “the cast of characters” assembled at those games made them the greatest ever.

“We were exposed to great international stars from many sports, not just from hockey. Canadians embraced the Winter Olympic Games and fell in love with them because of Calgary in 1988,” he says.

Canadian Olympic athleres march into McMahon Stadium during the opening ceremonies of the XV Olympic Games in Calgary, Alta on Feb. 13, 1988. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Winnipeg Free Press - Glen Olsen

Russell remembers Italian alpine skier Alberto "La Bomba" Tomba, for example. The hot-blooded, passionate athlete who ended up winning two gold medals was “a showman in every sense of the word”.

“He was a bit of a playboy. And he certainly made it apparent that he had this thing for East-German figure skater, Katarina Witt. It was really quite a story, full of intrigue,” he says.

Witt, the 1984 Olympic champion and media darling, was in Calgary to defend her title against rivals Debi Thomas of the United States and Japan’s Midori Ito.

“She took that sort of aura with her to the Calgary games. What was really wonderful about Katarina Witt was she was so seductive when she skated,” he says.

Witt won that competition, but the silver medal, surprisingly, was snatched by Canadian Elizabeth Manley.

Former Winter Olympic athletes Brian Orser, left to right, Elizabeth Manley and Karen Percy Lowe take part in the celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta on Wednesday Feb. 13, 2007. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal

“In Calgary, she was absolutely spectacular during the free skate, and captured the hearts of every one. She celebrated by circling the ice and wearing that white Stetson hat. It was sort of the enduring image of those Olympic Games”, Russell remembers.

Russell remembers another figure skating confrontation in the Olympic Saddledome. In “The Battle of the Brians”, Canadian Brian Orser and American Brian Boitano skated “literary toe to toe.”

“These were two competitors at the height of their powers, competing on an equal footing, and it was just pure sport and great competition,” remembers Russell.

‘A huge place in my heart’

The veteran sportscaster says the games have also left a great sporting legacy.

“Most of the facilities from Calgary 1988 remain in that city;

He also reminds us that “these were the biggest Winter Olympic Games in history, in terms of the number of nations participating, and also the size of the city”.

Next year, Russell will be covering the Sotchi Winter Games.

“It’s going to be a wonderful Olympics, but Calgary always has a “huge place” in my heart.”

You can read Scott Russell's article on the legacy of the Calgary Winter games here.

Gilda Salomone spoke with Scott Russell, senior host at CBC Sports Weekend, about the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
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