In years past, the Olympic Games were a symbol of international hope and pride. Even today, host countries pour billions of dollars into infrastructure to create a utopia for global athletes – ideally in exchange for a boost to local economy. But when the medals have been won and the crowds have returned home, Olympic cities without a post-event plan for sporting venues find the dust settles quickly. Take a look at the then and now of the legacy left behind.
Berlin, Summer and Winter 1936
Germany has had a rough go of hosting the Olympics. Adolf Hitler was present at the 1936 Games, and the tragic Munich massacre – in which eleven Israeli athletes and a German police officer were killed by a Palestinian terrorist group – marred the event in 1972. Though some of the infrastructure from the Berlin Olympics has enjoyed good upkeep and is still in use, the Olympic Village site has been through hell and back since its glory days. The abandoned site was home during the ‘Nazi Games’ to thousands of athletes, including Jesse Owens, a black Alabama native who was the star of the infamous event with four gold medal wins. His room at the Village has been fully restored and acts as a museum. After the Games, the site housed training and battle-wounded soldiers during wartime. It was then occupied for almost 50 years by the Soviet Army, who used it for interrogation and torture. Cremated remains from their victims were deposited around the site.
Stade Olympique de Berlin en 1936 / 2009
Jesse Owens at medal ceremony / Owen’s restored room
Olympic Village, 2011
(Photo: Global Fish)
The swimming venue, 2008
(Photo: Andreas Levers)
Remnants of the Olympic spirit
Montreal, Summer 1976
It took almost 30 years to pay off a debt of more than a billion dollars accrued by Montreal to host the only Summer Games held in Canada. The stadium was half-built in time for the Games, and the retractable roof has never really worked. Nicknamed The Big O, it’s referred to as The Big Owe for issues relating to its poor construction as well as the staggering debt it saddled on the city. Some residents even blame it for the loss of the Montreal Expos to Washington in the 2000s. Canada also scored the dubious honour of being the first host country to not receive any gold medals during its own Summer Games. Le face palm.
Montreal Olympic Stadium aerial view
Bring Back Expos, 2015 / Expos 1986
Stadium by night
Moscow, Summer 1980
The 1980 Summer Olympics were boycotted by 65 countries because of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, which means quite a few people missed out on seeing the former Soviet Union’s uninspired architecture. The infrastructure project was reported to cost $26 billion by today’s standards. Though the Olympic Village doesn’t stand out, it’s housed state employees and is still in use today as housing. In fact, though not so pretty, most of the sporting venues continue to host events or have been reconstructed.
Olympic Village, 1980 / 2005
Opening ceremony, Luzhniki Stadium, 1980
The Olimpiyskiy indoor arena during the World Fencing Championships, 2015
(Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen)
Luzhniki Stadium, reconstruction, 2016
Los Angeles, Summer 1984
Los Angeles hosted the Games in 1932, but became the default host city of the Summer Olympics once again when political and social stresses forced Tehran to decline the bid. Following the financial disaster that was the Montreal Games, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee negotiated the use of already-existing venues and garnered funding by corporations to help avoid debt. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, used as the Olympic Stadium in 1932, was named a national historic landmark and reused. Today, the Olympic Cauldron at the stadium is still lit to note special occasions and national tragedies. The Grand Olympic Auditorium, used for the boxing, wresting and weightlifting events of the 1932 Games, and then as a punk rock venue, became the Glory Church of Jesus Christ in 2005.
Under construction in 1922 / Olympic Auditorium, 1930
Opening ceremonies, 1984
The stadium being used in 2008
(Photo: Bobak Ha’Eri)
The stadium hosted the Special Olympics ceremonies and concerts in 2015
Sarajevo, Winter 1984
The Olympic venues in Sarajevo, present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, were largely destroyed during a civil war eight years after the Games were held. Abandoned venues were used as artillery positions, and are now riddled with bullet holes and graffiti. The bobsled track is deteriorated and overrun by weeds, Most striking is the image of rows of tombstones in a makeshift graveyard that stands in the shadows of the Olympic Village.
Opening Ceremony, 1984
Overgrown bobsled track
(Photo: Julian Nitzsche)
Olympic symbol damaged during the Bosnian War
(Photo: Hedwig Klawuttke)
Graveyard in Olympic Sports Complex
Ski jump / battlefield
Sydney, Summer 2000
The Sydney Games were lauded as being extremely successful games, with the IOC President declaring them to be the best ever. The event faced little controversy, and infrastructure rejuvenated a desolate area – in use even after the Games. The Olympic Stadium – now known as ANZ Stadium – is one of the few Olympic stadiums in the world to be in good condition, and Olympic Park hosts thousands of events each year, attended by millions of visitors. No doubt future Olympic host cities could look to Sydney for advice about hosting an event to bring pride to their home countries – and the world.
Closing ceremony, 2000
ANZ Stadium, 2009
Olympic Walk, 1999
(Photo: Jimmy Harris)
ANZ Stadium 2012
(Photo: Alex Proimos)
Athens, Summer 2004
Just a little more than a decade after the Games returned to their 1896 birthplace, many of the sporting venues used in the 2004 event sit in ruins. The Athens Games have been criticized for being a small factor in the Greek debt crisis. The athletes’ village provides housing, and the Olympic Stadium, built in the ’80’s and renovated for the Games, is used for sporting and music events – but many of the other sporting venues are used infrequently or haven’t been repurposed. The training pool in Olympic village is filled with murky water and frogs while Olympic-sized pools are empty, and landscaping at the beach volleyball stadium and softball venue is no longer maintained.
Velodrome then vs. now
Olympic Indoor Hall then vs. now
Beijing, Summer 2008
China became the second communist country to host an Olympics when Beijing lit up the opening and closing ceremonies with extraordinary fireworks shows. But just a few years later, many of the 12 new and eight temporary venues are deserted and in ruins. Parking lots at some venues are empty enough to be used for driving tests, and banners are peeling off the walls of stadiums as though people left the site in a hurry and didn’t look back. Stray dogs – then suspected to be culled in preparation for the event – can be seen once again. The BMX track is deserted and overrun with weeds. The National Aquatics Centre is, however, in use as Asia’s largest indoor water park and is still revered for being an example of innovative architecture. The famous Bird’s Nest stadium hasn’t attracted many significant events since the Games, but is still visited by up to 30,000 people a day. It will be used for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Games in 2022.
Bird’s Nest, 2008
Bird’s Nest, after
(Photo: Micah Sittig)
Olympic Village then vs. now
Sochi, Winter, 2014
Photos of an unprepared Sochi were being shared online before a medal had even been won. The $51 billion Olympic complex in Russia has barely been used since the Winter Games. Parking lots are empty, unfinished buildings have been forgotten, hotels are deserted and roads are crumbling. The one thing Sochi has going for it, is that the focus is now on Rio.
Fisht Stadium during the games
— Simon Rosner (@SimonRosner) February 6, 2014
Abandoned Olympic Park
(Main photo: CarlJohanLinell)