In less than one year, more than 4,000 athletes, coaches, officials, family, and friends will be visiting Calgary for the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games.
There’s still a lot of work to be done to get to a Feb. 27, 2024 opening ceremony, organizers said during a media event on Wednesday to reveal more about what is going to get the games to the finish line.
“Oh gosh, the laundry list is long of all the things that we need to do in a year,” said Karen Dommett, general manager of the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games 2024.
Athletes from the intellectual disability community will be competing in 5-Pin Bowling at The Bowling Depot, Alpine Skiing at Winsport, Cross Country Skiing at Confederation Park, Curling at the North Hill Community Curling Club, Floor Hockey at the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex, Figure Skating at the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex, Snowshoeing at Fort Calgary, and Speed Skating at the Olympic Oval.
The Canada Winter Games will serve as the qualifier event for the World Winter Games to take place in 2025.
The opening of the games will begin with the traditional Law Enforcement Run, which will go from the downtown core to Stampede Park.
Athletes will be granted their medals at Olympic Plaza, the venue that was specially built for medal presentations for the 1988 Olympics.
“We are so excited to offer that experience to our athletes,” said Dommett.
The Winter Games will wrap up with the closing ceremonies at the Big 4 Roadhouse, followed by what many of the athletes at Wednesday’s event considered the most important part of the games—the athlete dance.
“Our facilities are ready. And I know that Calgarians are also ready to volunteer and cheer these amazing athletes on,” said Mayor Jyoti Gondek.
“But the thing is, we won’t just be cheering for these athletes. We will also be learning from them, and we are about to receive a massive lesson in the power of teamwork, friendship, and overcoming obstacles to ensure that you can achieve your dreams.”
Volunteers needed to make games happen
Games organizers are seeking more than750 volunteers to help do everything from supporting hotel accommodations, sporting venue operations, and social media and marketing.
“Really, anything you can think of that we need to deliver, we’ll have volunteers supporting it,” said Dommett.
A volunteer sign-up portal will be available at calgary2024.specialolympics.ca.
“When you get to be part of shaping the event that will serve as one of the most influential experiences in the athlete’s life—by removing barriers to allow them to compete at their highest level—you truly get a front-row seat to humanity,” Dommett said.
“You will have that front-row ticket to watch some of the most magical moments of sport unfold right in front of your eyes, and I promise you having been part of a few of these, there’s nothing that compares. So we invite you to get involved and join us somewhere along this journey.”
That attitude of doing things together towards the common goal of putting on the first post-pandemic Special Olympics was evident in the tagline revealed for the Calgary games, “Together. We Can.”
The 2024 games logo was also revealed for the first time on Wednesday, with elements selected by the Special Olympics community to best reflect the elements that will make up the Calgary games. Elements include the sun for the sunshine that Calgary receives, swooshes representing the Chinook winds, and the Three Sisters representing the Rocky Mountains.
Legacy for Calgary
The co-chair for the Calgary games, former Olympic curler Cheryl Bernard, said that beyond the benefit of giving athletes the chance to compete at the highest levels, the games will also serve to provide the city with a “legacy that benefits the community long after these games are gone.”
“We’re creating a multifaceted legacy program that will include sustainable disability inclusive employment in Calgary awareness and education, Special Olympics volunteer recruitment, and donation of equipment,” she said.
Bernard said they have also committed to sharing resources and lessons from the Calgary games with future games committees in order to give them both a head start and a raised bar for those games.
The positive impacts that the games have on individuals with intellectual disabilities include vastly increased rates of employment (28 per cent versus 44 per cent for athletes), 10 per cent less chance of being obese or overweight compared to the general population, 20 per cent fewer athletes with anxiety disorders compared to the general population, and on average Special Olympic athletes live two years longer.
The games have been brought to Calgary as a result of investments by Tourism Calgary, the Government of Canada, Special Olympics Canada, TC Energy, The Flames Foundation, Blakes, and Evans Hunt.
Tourism Calgary has invested $650,000 into bringing the games to Calgary. The visitors to Calgary and events happening throughout the games are expected to generate in excess of $10.7 million of economic activity for the city.