Canada at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games

The 1988 Olympic Winter Games were held in Calgary, Alberta, from 13 to 28 February 1988. Canada sent 112 athletes (82 men and 30 women) and finished 12th in the overall medal count with five medals (two silver and three bronze). Canadian athletes won medals in alpine skiing and figure skating. Karen Percy won bronze in the women’s downhill and super giant slalom, Brian Orser and Elizabeth Manley won silver in men’s and women’s figure skating and Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall won bronze in ice dancing.

Olympic Flag, 1988 Calgary Games
The Olympic flag floats at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary

The 1988 Olympic Winter Games were the first held in Canada. It was the third time Calgary had applied to host the Olympic Winter Games. They had previously lost to Innsbruck, Austria, for the right to host the 1964 Olympic Winter Games and to Grenoble, France, to host the 1968 Olympic Winter Games. Banff, located about 125 km west of Calgary, had bid for the 1972 Olympic Winter Games but had lost to Sapporo, Japan.

The 1988 Olympic Winter Games took place in Calgary, Nakiska and Canmore, Alberta. Alpine skiing was contested at Nakiska and biathlon and cross-country skiing in Canmore, with the rest of the events in Calgary. It was the first time that alpine skiing events were held on artificial snow.

The Olympic Saddledome, which now hosts the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames, was the primary venue for hockey and figure skating. The Stampede Corral and Father David Bauer Arena were secondary venues for hockey, while Father David Bauer Arena also hosted the compulsory figures in figure skating competitions. Ski jumping, bobsled and luge were held at Canada Olympic Park in west Calgary, while the newly built Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary hosted speed skating. For the first time, Olympic speed skating was held indoors, and all spectator stands were smoke-free.

The total price tag of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games was $829 million. Funding came from the federal government, the Province of Alberta and the City of Calgary, and from nearly a hundred official sponsors, licensees and suppliers. American television network ABC spent $309 million to broadcast the Olympic Winter Games in the United States. The Games also enjoyed strong community support, including donations of time by over 9,000 volunteers (whose names were inscribed at the Olympic Hall of Fame in Calgary). Overall, the 1988 Calgary Winter Games had a positive economic effect, creating 27,400 jobs and adding $1.4 billion to the Canadian economy. The Games also generated a $140 million profit, compared to a $1 billion loss for the 1976 Olympic Summer Games in Montreal. Following the Games, Calgary became a winter sports mecca. It is now home to several national teams, including Hockey Canada, Alpine Canada and Bobsleigh Canada.

DID YOU KNOW?
Some of the most popular Olympic athletes at the 1988 Calgary Games were neither Canadian nor medal contenders. While Canadians cheered on their own athletes at the Calgary Games, many also rooted for two surprising Olympic entries: the underdog Jamaican bobsled team and Britain’s first ski jumper, Michael Edwards, a.k.a., “Eddie the Eagle,” who finished last in both the 70m and 90m jumps. Both have been immortalized in Hollywood movies, Cool Runnings (1993) and Eddie the Eagle (2016).
Opening Ceremonies, 1988 Calgary Games
Canada's Brian Orser carries the Canadian flag during the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.

Opening Ceremonies

The opening ceremonies took place at McMahon Stadium, home of the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders. Approximately 20,000 temporary seats were added to the stadium for the Games. Among the presenters were Canadian musicians Ian Tyson and Gordon Lightfoot. Figure skater Brian Orser carried the Canadian flag in the Parade of Nations, while former speed skater Cathy Priestner and former alpine skier Ken Read carried the Olympic torch in McMahon Stadium, before passing it to a young schoolgirl, Robyn Perry, who lit the cauldron. Canadian Governor General Jeanne Sauvé officially declared the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary open, and cross-country skier Pierre Harvey recited the Athlete’s Oath.

Opening Ceremonies, 1988 Calgary Games
Canada's Robyn Perry lights the Olympic flame during the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
Opening Ceremonies, 1988 Calgary Games
Participants perform at the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.
Opening Ceremonies, 1988 Calgary Games
Canada's RCMP Carrousel riders participate in the opening ceremonies at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
Opening Ceremonies, 1988 Calgary Games
Chuckwagon riders perform during the opening ceremonies at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.

Alpine Skiing

Four new skiing events debuted at the 1988 Games: super giant slalom, alpine combined, team Nordic combined and team cross-country skiing.

In women’s alpine skiing, the Canadian medal favourite was Laurie Graham. However, Graham failed to medal, finishing fifth in the women’s downhill and 13th in the women’s super giant slalom. To the surprise of many, Canadian Karen Percy reached the podium in both events. On 19 February, Percy took bronze in the downhill competition, becoming the first Canadian to win an Olympic Winter Games medal in Canada. When Percy won Olympic bronze in the super giant slalom three days later, she was nicknamed “Canada’s New Alpine Queen.” It was the second time in Olympic history that a Canadian woman had won two medals at a single Olympic Winter Games. Nancy Greene had won a gold and silver medal in alpine skiing at the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble.

Karen Percy, 1988 Calgary Games
Canada's Karen Percy celebrates her second bronze medal win in an alpine ski event at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.
Karen Percy, 1988 Calgary Games
Canada's Karen Percy participates in the alpine ski event at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.

In women’s alpine combined, three Canadians finished in the top 10: Percy was fourth, Michelle McKendry was seventh and Kerrin Lee (later Kerrin Lee-Gartner) was eighth.

Sadly, the ski runs were also the site of a tragedy on 25 February. While skiing near a chairlift, the Austrian team doctor, Dr. Jorg Oberhammer, accidentally collided with CTV technician Brian Nock. Oberhammer fell into the path of a huge snow-grooming machine and was crushed to death. Investigators later determined that it was an accident.

Brian Orser Wins Silver, 1988 Calgary Games
Canada's Brian Orser (left) celebrates his silver medal win in the men's figure skating event along with gold medal winner Brian Boitano from the U.S.A. (centre) and bronze medal winner Victor Petrenko from Russia at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.

Figure Skating

For the first time in Olympic history, Canada won three medals in figure skating at a single Olympic Winter Games. Brian Orser won silver in men’s figure skating, Elizabeth Manley won silver in women’s figure skating and Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall won bronze in ice dancing.

The men’s figure skating competition became known as the “Battle of the Brians,” because the two main contenders were Canadian Brian Orser and American Brian Boitano. Orser was considered Canada’s best chance for Olympic gold at the Calgary Games. He had won silver behind American Scott Hamilton at the 1984 Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo, where he made history by landing the first triple axel in Olympic competition. In 1987, he won the world championship. At the Calgary Games, his main rival was Boitano, who had won the gold medal at the 1986 World Figure Skating Championships. 

Brian Orser, 1988 Calgary Games
Canada's Brian Orser participates in the figure skating event at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary

At the 1988 Games, both Orser and Boitano trailed Soviet Aleksandr Fadeyev after the compulsory figures, with Boitano enjoying a narrow lead over Orser. In the short program, Orser just edged Boitano, with the North Americans now in first and second place. It all came down to the free skate. Both Brians delivered strong performances in the long program, and the judges were divided. Four judges voted for Orser, three for Boitano, and two gave them the same total marks. In order to break the tie in these two cases, the judges gave priority to the marks for technical merit. While Boitano had delivered a nearly flawless performance, Orser had made two minor errors in his routine (although he received slightly higher marks than Boitano for artistic impression). Boitano was therefore awarded the gold medal, while a disappointed Orser took home his second consecutive Olympic silver medal.

Elizabeth Manley, 1988 Calgary Games
Canada's Elizabeth Manley participates in the figure skating event at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

In the ladies’ singles competition, the top medal contenders were East Germany’s Katarina Witt and American Debi Thomas. Witt had won the gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo and was the reigning world champion, while Thomas had won the 1986 World Figure Skating Championship. Canada’s top medal hope was Elizabeth Manley, who had progressed from ninth to fourth over the last three World Figure Skating Championships. Although she was not expected to challenge Witt and Thomas for the top two podium positions, she delivered a stunning performance in the long program and won the silver medal, second only to Witt.

Elizabeth Manley Wins Silver, 1988 Calgary Games
Canada's Elizabeth Manley celebrates her silver medal win in the women’s figure skating competition at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.

In ice dancing, Wilson and McCall became the first Canadians to win an Olympic medal in the event as they took bronze behind two teams from the Soviet Union. Leading up to the 1988 Games, Wilson and McCall had won back-to-back bronze medals at the World Figure Skating Championships in 1986 and 1987. (Sadly, McCall died of brain cancer only three years after the Calgary Games at the age of 33.)

Tracy Wilson and Robert McCall, 1988 Calgary Games
Canada's Tracy Wilson and Robert McCall participate in the figure skating - ice dance event at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.

In pairs figure skating, three Canadian teams finished in the top 10: Denise Benning and Lyndon Johnston in sixth, Christine Hough and Doug Ladret in eighth and future medalists Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler in ninth.   

Men’s Hockey Team, 1988 Calgary Games
Canada's Sean Burke (goalie), Serge Roy (#3) and Trent Yawney (#5) participate in the hockey tournament at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary.

Other Sports

In men’s hockey, Canada finished Pool A play with a record of 3–1–1. The team beat Poland 1–0, Switzerland 4–2 and France 9–5, while losing to Finland 3–1 and tying Sweden 2–2. The top three teams from Pool A and B qualified for the final round. Canada’s games against Finland and Sweden were carried over into the final round as those teams also advanced. Canada played three more games, defeating West Germany 8–1 and Czechoslovakia 6–3 and losing to the Soviet Union 5–0. Canada finished fourth in the tournament, while the Soviet Union won gold, Finland won silver and Sweden won bronze.

In men’s ski jumping, Horst Bulau placed seventh in the 90m jump, the best result by a Canadian ski jumper in the history of the Olympic Winter Games. In speed skating, Canada’s best result at the 1988 Games was Gaetan Boucher’s fifth-place finish in the men’s 1000m.

Closing Ceremonies

For the first time ever, the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games were held outdoors. Just like the opening ceremonies, they were held at McMahon Stadium. In his closing speech, International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch praised the Calgary Games, declaring them “the most successful Olympic Games ever.”

Team Canada Statistics

Team: 112 athletes (82 men, 30 women)
Medals: 5 (2 silver and 3 bronze)
Rank: 12th (overall medal count)

Medal Table

Athletes Sport Medal
Karen Percy Alpine Skiing (women’s downhill) Bronze
Alpine Skiing (women’s super giant slalom) Bronze
Elizabeth Manley Figure Skating (women’s singles) Silver
Brian Orser Figure Skating (men’s singles) Silver
Rob McCall
Tracy Wilson
Figure Skating (ice dance) Bronze
Men’s Curling Team, 1988 Calgary Games
(From left to right) Canada's Edward Lukowich, John Ferguson, Neil Houston and Brent Syme celebrate their bronze medal win in the men's curling event at the 1988 Calgary Olympic Winter Games. Curling was a demonstration event at the Games.