1 March 2018




With the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics having come to a close, have you ever wondered what happens to Olympic stadiums and venues once the closing ceremonies happen?

Countries around the world invest billions of dollars into preparing stadiums and other various venues when they host a coveted Olympic Games. But what happens once the games are finished? In recent years, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have endorsed the idea of “legacy” to justify the value of this expenditure. But what legacies do they leave? Repurposing or relocating buildings are the ideal for finished Olympic venues; however, more often than not, these venues become physical and financial burdens on their countries. Therefore, this week, I'd like to throw it back to some of the world's past Olympic stadiums and venues.

1936 Berlin, Germany – Olympic Village

In 1936, the Nazis used the Olympic Games as a propaganda tool to promote Germany and the German “master race”. Some venues remained active post-Olympics; however, most were abandoned and fell into disrepair. Today, most of the venues from the 1936 Olympic Games still exist, although they are in poor condition. In the last ten years, the German government has begun to save these sites as historic buildings. Most famously, the room Jesse Owens – the African American track and field athlete who won four golds and defied Nazi race laws – stayed in has been fully restored and is a living museum with pictures and other artifacts honouring his legacy.

Abandoned olympic village used at Nazi barracks during WWII. Source
Renovated dorm of Jesse Owens as a museum. Source.
Inside of Jesse Owens dorm, Olympic Village, Berlin, 1936. Source.
1976 Montreal, Canada – Olympic Stadium

In 1976, Montreal hosted the Summer Olympic Games. The stadium has not been used since the Expos played their last game in 2004, and is not only a symbol of financial debt, but a reminder of controversy that was the 1976 Summer Olympic Games. Twenty-two African nations refused to participate after New Zealand was not banned for sending the All Blacks rugby team to tour Apartheid South Africa.

Due to the terrorist attacks in Munich four years earlier, security cost more than 80% of what the entire event was supposed to cost. Multiple athletes were accused of doping (some not even aware they had been doped), and Canada was the first nation to fail to win a gold medal on home soil. The entire costs of the Games were close to two billion dollars, majority coming from the rushed completion of the Olympic stadium. It has taken Montreal over forty years to complete its debt, and today the stadium still exists. The stadium cannot be used if there is over 3cm of snow, and the only thing more expensive than a permanent steel roof would be to completely tear it down. 

Olympic Stadium, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Source.
1984 Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia) – Bobsled Course and Medal Podium

In 1984, Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, was home to the Winter Olympic Games as the capital of Yugoslavia. This was the first time the Olympics were being hosted by a Communist state, and less than ten years later, civil war broke out. These sites that once feted athletic excellence, was now are sites of brutal conflict. The sites were immediately abandoned as instability grew. The bobsled course became a military station through the Bosnian war, and the medal podium was used as a site of execution. Today, these sites are riddled with bullet holes, and the only legacy they hold are relics of war and conflict.

Abandoned and overgrown bobsled course in Sarajevo. Source.
Medals Podium in Sarajevo, Bosnia (then Yugoslavia). Source
2004 Athens, Greece – the Olympia

In 2004, in the birthplace of the Olympics, Athens hosted the Summer Olympic Games. Greece spent over fifteen billion dollars for world-class sporting venues that over a decade later are no longer used and decaying. At the height of the 2004 Olympics, this sports complex was the most complex in all of Europe, but today it represents misplaced indulgence and a ruined economy. Many Greeks blame the 2004 Olympics as a main contributor to the nation’s economic collapse and current instability.

The Panathinaikon in Athens, Greece. Source.

A monument is defined as "a building, structure, or site that is of historical importance or interest". In my mind, and I'm sure in the minds of some of you, monuments are erected to represent significant points in history. However, these Olympic sites do carry a legacy and hold significance for certain points in our world's history.

But can these sites be considered monuments when more often than not these places are left abandoned and decaying? What value and kinds of reminders do these sites really hold for the nations who house them? What legacy do the Olympic Games hold for each country that host?  How can we, museum professionals, assist in this legacy? I don't have answers to these questions, but in light of the Olympic Games, I believe these are important questions to ask ourselves as we emerge into the world of museums, heritage, and legacy.

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