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Canada's bob team hopes World Cup in Calgary not the last on home track


CALGARY — Canada's bobsled and skeleton teams head to the world championships in Whistler, B.C., wondering if the ski resort will be their future home.

The Whistler track, built for the 2010 Winter Games there and in Vancouver, will be the only sliding centre in the country if Calgary's is mothballed.

Calgary's 33-year-old track built for the 1988 Winter Olympics has been the home of the national bob, skeleton and luge teams for over three decades.

Canadians have won a combined eight Olympic medals in bobsled and skeleton since 1988, including four gold.

Canadian lugers won Olympic medals for the first time last year with a relay silver and Alex Gough's bronze in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Calgary is slated to host the 2021 world luge championships.

But Sunday's four-man bob and men's skeleton World Cup races were the last in Calgary unless the track operator can find both money to complete a $25-million renovation and more funds to run it.

The refrigeration system will be decommissioned next week.

Germany, home of four sliding tracks, swept the four-man podium Sunday. 

Francesco Friedrich piloted the Germans to gold a day after winning gold in two-man.

Canada's Justin Kripps tied with Friedrich for Olympic two-man gold in Pyeongchang.

He and brakemen Ryan Sommer, Cameron Stones and Ben Coakwell finished fifth Sunday.

Kripps moved from B.C. from Calgary 12 years ago "without a penny in my pocket" to learn the art of driving a bobsled.

Calgary's slower track requires finesse and patience, while Whistler demands precision at high speeds.

"It's nice to have the two extremes in Canada," Kripps said. "You get to practice both."

The 32-year-old from Summerland felt confident Sunday's race wasn't his last in Calgary.

"I don't think so. I think they're going to find a way to do the renovations they need to the refrigeration plant and get those updates done and I think we'll be back racing here," he said. "I'm just an optimist."

But others weren't so sure.

Dave Greszczyszyn (pronounced gresh-CHIH-shin) from Brampton Ont., and Kevin Boyer of Sherwood Park, Alta., leaned into television cameras after their skeleton runs Sunday to say "keep this track going" and "save our track".

Greszczyszyn moved to Calgary to pursue the sport 11 years ago before there was a track in Whistler.

The 39-year-old substitute teacher raced in last year's Olympic Games and placed sixth Sunday. He became emotional pleading for the track's continuation.

"Just invest a little bit and you'll get a lot out," he said.

According to archives at WinSport, formerly the Calgary Olympic Development Association, the cost to build the track was $18.8 million.

The provincial and federal governments have committed $17-million to a planned renovation that is now on hold.

WinSport, which oversees Canada Olympic Park, has said it was counting on a Calgary bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games to generate more funding for the track.

But Calgarians voted down a bid in a Nov. 13 plebiscite.

"We're working the rooms and trying to talk to the various levels of government to see what they can come forward with," WinSport spokesman Dale Oviatt said Sunday.

"As every day goes by that we're still looking for that money, that's another delay in the track opening for next season."

"It's not a decision we wanted to make, but the long and short of it is, this track cannot operate under these conditions for next year."

Calgary is preferable to Whistler as a national-team base for multiple reasons, not the least of which are the higher cost of living in a ski resort and the longer distance to an international airport.

Whistler is the newer facility, but it lacks Calgary's ice house built in 2001 so sliders could train starts and pushes in the off-season, nor does it have a 100-metre indoor sprint track.

Calgary's is the only truly urban track in the world.

Luger Tristan Walker, who won Olympic relay silver last year, says the impact of losing the Calgary track goes much deeper than the national team.

"What's really concerning is the grassroots program here," he said. "We start recruiting at seven (years old).

"A lot of people say this (impacts) such a small percentage and why invest so much? But in 2001, I was any other 10-year-old kid in Canada.

"It's such a huge opportunity for Canada to have a track like this so close to a huge population that we can recruit from and get new athletes.

"I really hope the powers that be sort it out and realize how important this is to the entire community."

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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