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Calgary to be the new home for Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

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The Canadian Press
10/28/2008 7:40:03 PM
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TORONTO - Curt Harnett looks forward to a day when he'll have more room in his shed. And it's not because he needs the extra space.

The three-time Olympic medallist has been storing the bike he used to win bronze at the Atlanta Games for 12 years, just waiting to give it a better home.

Soon, he'll be getting that chance.

Harnett was one of many former athletes who was thrilled with Tuesday's announcement that Calgary has been chosen to permanently house Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.

"It's sitting in the shed but I'm making sure it doesn't get too many scratches and dings on it," Harnett said of the bike. "I've got to keep it up off the ground out of the way of the lawnmower."

The new facility will be part of a major expansion at Canada Olympic Park and is expected to open in 2011. The Hall has gone through a turbulent period since the federal government cancelled plans to move it to Ottawa nearly 10 years ago but appears now to have found stable footing.

"For me it's a dream come true," said Sheryn Posen, the Hall's chief operating officer. "I want to celebrate the Hall with all of Canada - it's a wonderful, magical place when you walk through the doors and see different things.

"We wanted to find the right home and I'm confident we've done that."

The project is expected to cost $50 million, with roughly $30 million needed for construction and another $20 million for an endowment fund that will help cover operating costs. The Canadian Olympic Development Agency donated the land where the new Hall will be built.

Calgary was one of nine cities vying for it.

"We have been very, very passionate and very agressive in trying to provide an option for Canada's Sports Hall of Fame to have a home," said Roger Jackson, co-chair of Calgary's bid. "(The Olympic Park) is a superb location to honour sport and its athletes."

It certainly beats the space on Toronto's Exhibition grounds where boxes of artifacts are currently being stored away from public view.

The Hall previously occupied another location on the property that was open to visitors but former rower Marnie McBean says even it was well below standard. The three-time Olympic gold medallist was inducted to the Hall along with rowing partner Kathleen Heddle in 1997 and remembers visiting the museum at that time.

"It was like the carrels of a library that nobody goes to," said McBean. "It kind of rode off into the sunset a little bit. It got to a point where it wasn't acceptable to keep it open because it had withered."

She is part of the board that helped choose Calgary and is enthusiastic about the Hall's potential moving forward. It's an opinion that is shared by other former athletes like speedskater Sylvia Burka, hockey player Ron Ellis, football player Russ Jackson and golfer Sandra Post - all members of the Hall who turned up for Tuesday's announcement.

After so many years of struggles, it was the kind of good news the institution has been hoping for.

Harnett likens the Hall's progression to the life of an athlete who has quietly had to overcome several obstacles before arriving at his big Olympic moment.

"The years of toiling behind the scenes and training and racing and success and failure are not necessarily witnessed day to day by the general public," said Harnett. "Then all of a sudden they see you on this world stage and expect the best out of you.

"This announcement is really the culmination of something like that."

He was inducted to the Hall in 2005 and has had discussions with Posen in the past about donating the bike he rode to bronze in Atlanta.

Up until now, there really wasn't much point in doing it.

"I've been holding back in knowledge that we were coming towards the final resolution of where the home will be," said Harnett. "I've maintained my bike - why give it to them and have them try to find a place for it?

"One day it hopefully shows up and is displayed properly in Calgary." 

Roger Jackson displays new Sports Hall of Fame (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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