Olympic legacy: White elephants, tourist attractions or training centers?

You may have seen some of the depressing photos of abandoned Olympic venues in recent days — from Beijing, from Athens, from all over.

Is the USA doing any better? A travel-planning site called RoadTrippers sent out a release today highlighting a few thriving venues from Squaw Valley (though it’s labeled as the “only venue in use from ’60 Winter Olympics”), the Lake Placid center that saw Sonja Henie in 1932 and the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980, the still-useful speedskating oval and Olympic Park from Salt Lake City, and the still-dancing fountains at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park.

Winter Olympics are mostly about using a couple of arenas and putting up temporary stands for skiing and snowboarding events. The biggest questions are the sliding track (luge, skeleton, bobsled) and the ski jumps. Sarajevo, as seen above, has a couple of nasty leftovers, but the region had more pressing issues in the 90s. Salt Lake City is happily using its facilities. The bobsled/skeleton federation has events in Cesana (2006) and Whistler (2010) this winter. Getting into the mix in ski jumping is more difficult, with so many facilities in Europe hosting traditional stops. Whistler Olympic Park as a whole gets some use, but the Canadian ski jumpers seem to prefer Calgary, another former Olympic host.

The Summer Games can be trickier. One good reason for that: They’re huge.

The best way to save costs and minimize abandonment, of course, is to use a lot of pre-existing facilities. Atlanta got by with a lot of college gyms and pools. Some specialized facilities, like the Georgia International Horse Park and the beach volleyball venue, segued nicely into other uses. The tennis center’s fate is still in the air. As for the shooting center, Wikipedia states with no source other than common sense that it’s difficult to attract major competition when Fort Benning isn’t that far away.

Sydney 2000 changed the rules. Tons of new venues, mostly concentrated in one big park. But in sports-mad Australia, those facilities were welcomed and mostly still in use. One arena has even hosted multiple UFC cards.

Then, alas, came Athens. Greece simply couldn’t afford the Olympics, much less the upkeep afterwards. It’s no surprise to see abandoned facilities in the pictures above.

Beijing shocks me. And it shocks someone at Deadspin who calls the “ruin porn” pictures “dishonest crap.” Several of those venues were supposed to be temporary. The Bird’s Nest and Water Cube are tourist attractions near the big convention centers that housed us friendly media types and a few competitions during the Games. And I don’t know what they’re supposed to do with the canoe slalom course built in the middle of nowhere.

The picture that makes the least sense to me, though, is the beach volleyball picture. That was supposed to be a temporary facility, and it’s in a busy neighborhood. You’d think it would’ve been torn down between the twin forces of national pride and locals wanting their park back.

London also went with some temporary facilities. Others will go to local club teams — Wimbledon fans will note the irony in a basketball team leaving Milton Keynes to go to London and play in the “Copper Box.” Cycling-mad English folks will probably figure out a use for the velodrome.

You’d think the IOC would have some consideration for the expense of all these venues when it ponders the Olympic program. You’d think. But they added golf to the 2016 Games. And Rio had to start taking bids. Then they get the joy of securing a golf course. Maybe Tiger can pay for it.

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Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

3 thoughts on “Olympic legacy: White elephants, tourist attractions or training centers?”

  1. The original white elephant Summer Olympics was Montreal in 1976. That financial debacle scared potential host cities away and left Los Angeles as the only bidder for the 1984 games. The 1984 Olympics was an austere affair compared to previous games and probably saved the Olympics. I remember the swimming competition was held in an OUTDOOR pool used originally in the 1932 Olympics. That would have been unthinkable before Montreal. Very little was built for the 1984 Olympics as L.A. already had extensive sports facilities that were fairly new at the time having been built in the 1960’s or were just reused from the 1932 games. The Coliseum just got a paint job if I recall correctly.

    Success breeds excess. Athens and Beijing are just repeats of Montreal. Athens NEVER should have been awarded the games (check Greek debt crisis). I notice the Chinese have shown no interest in hosting another Olympics since Beijing. Contrast that to US bids for almost every Olympics they could bid on since 1984 (1996, 2012, 2016, 2024, 2028).

  2. Taipei host to the Summer Olympics? Not if Mainland China has anything to say about it. If Tokyo is awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics, 2032 would probably be the earliest another Asian city would have a serious shot at getting the games. Europe and North America would be in line for 2024 and 2028. Africa, too, maybe.

    A statement I made about the 1984 Summer Olympics needs correction.
    The 1984 Olympic Swimming Competition was NOT held in the same facility as the 1932 Olympic Swimming Competition. It was held in a new facility built for the 1984 Summer Olympics by private investors (the McDonald’s Corporation}. An outdoor Olympic sized pool on the USC Campus. The 1932 Swimming Competition was held in an outdoor swim stadium next to the Los Angeles Coliseum in Exposition Park about a mile or so to the south. Both facilities are still in use.

    Looking at both on Google Bird’s eye view, the 1932 Swim Stadium looks far more impressive than the 1984 pool. The Olympic rings can be seen on the side of the 1932 Swimming Stadium wall. The 1984 facility shows no indication it was ever used for the Olympics. In fact, it looks more like a recreation center outdoor swimming pool than anything that was ever used for the Olympics. Peter Ueberroth was one tight-a***d b*****d about controlling the costs of the 1984 Summer Olympics.

    If USC gains control of the Coliseum, I wonder if they get the Los Angeles Swim stadium, too. They will have TWO Olympic swimming pools if they do.

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