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‘A true Calgary sporting icon’: Bob Niven, president of Calgary’s ’88 Olympics bid committee, dies at 80



A Calgary businessman working in the oil and gas industry, Bob Niven devoted significant volunteer hours to advancing amateur sport in the city

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Bob Niven, an instrumental figure in bringing the 1988 Olympic Games to Calgary and a stalwart of the city’s amateur sports scene, has died at age 80.

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As president of Calgary’s bid committee, Niven alongside Frank King played a key role as an architect of the Calgary Winter Olympics, an event that established Calgary on the world stage and left a lasting mark on the city.

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Niven died at his home on May 26 from corticobasal degeneration, a rare neurological disease.

A Calgary businessman working in the oil and gas industry, Niven devoted significant volunteer hours to advancing amateur sport in the city.

Much of that involvement began as a member of the Calgary Booster Club, where he in 1978 stepped forward alongside King to take helm of the process which would a decade later bring the Games to Calgary.

He spent the following years in central roles after Calgary secured the Games in 1981. That included being vice-chairman of the Olympic organizing committee and chairman of the Calgary Olympic Development Association, now known as WinSport.

‘Made a difference’: Bob Niven’s impact felt in Calgary sport

“Bob was one of the people in Calgary who made a difference,” said Alf Fischer, a key figure in Alberta alpine skiing who worked with Niven during and after the Games. The pair later became business partners.

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“The legacy of high-performance sport and the legacy of Olympic sport would not be the same without Bob’s vision and his ability to get it done.”

In a statement, WinSport credited Niven as being the reason for the organization existing as it does today.

The Bob Niven Training Centre at Canada Olympic Park bears his name, and long served as training grounds for Canadian winter athletes. Niven was also inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.

“Bob was a true Calgary sporting icon, who selflessly devoted so much of his time to amateur sport,” WinSport said.

Fischer remembered Niven as a practical, detail-oriented thinker, who brought his analytical education in engineering to the Olympics process.

He said that personality made for a good fit with King, the chief executive officer of Calgary’s organizing committee, whose interpersonal skills helped court the International Olympic Committee to the city, and Bill Pratt, the chair of the Olympics, whose construction background was credited as key in getting infrastructure built for the Games. King died in 2018, and Pratt died in 1999.

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A visible legacy

Niven’s legacy is visible all across Calgary and southern Alberta, said Fischer, pointing to the Olympic Oval, Saddledome and Canmore Nordic Centre as facilities owed to the successful Games bid.

“I hope people recognize those buildings only exist today because of Bob Niven and Frank King,” Fischer said.

Reflecting on the 1988 Winter Olympics in a Calgary Herald opinion column in 2018, Niven wrote it was difficult to pull the event together amid problems including projections of cost overruns and shaky financing, but said the Games succeeded through the city’s support.

“The 1988 Olympics were a stunning success and Calgary now serves as a model to the world,” Niven wrote at the time.

Niven leaves behind his wife Margie and daughters Christina and Jennifer.

A celebration of life for family, friends and colleagues is scheduled for June 12.

Twitter: @jasonfherring


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