To be selected to host the Olympic Games, a city must have a full array of event venues. This often means building new stadiums, pools and tracks. These state-of-the-art facilities are in the spotlight for a couple of weeks, but then what happens?
Some former Olympic venues become the home of the local pro team or a regular stop on the professional circuit for whatever sport they host. Some are repurposed and used for other events, but a surprising number are simply abandoned or torn down after the Games have ended.
Let's take a look at some signature Olympic venues and what they look like today.
Montreal Olympic Velodrome
The former Olympic velodrome in Montreal is the rare example of a sports facility that has been successfully repurposed. Built for the 1976 Summer Games as a combination velodrome and judo arena, it had a modern, almost-space-age design. After ’76, it remained open as a sports facility until 1989.
Between 1989 and 1992, the building was extensively renovated. It reopened to the public as the Montreal Biodome, a cross between a zoo and botanical garden. The Biodome features four separate ecosystems, all housed under the roof of the former velodrome. The neighboring Olympic Stadium is another story, however. Since the Montreal Expos baseball team left in 2004, the building hasn't had any major permanent tenants.
Athens Olympic Aquatic Center
The Athens Olympic Aquatic Center was not specifically built for the 2004 Olympics. It was first constructed for the 1991 Mediterranean Games and expanded for the ‘04 Games to host swimming, diving and water polo events. The unique open-air design made it one of the more iconic venues during broadcasts.
Greece’s ongoing financial crisis, which was at least in part caused by debts incurred during the Games, left little money for the upkeep of the aquatic center. The pools have not been used recently; they've been drained and are now filled with nothing but rubbish.
Sarajevo Bobsled Track
Sarajevo is now a growing city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was part of communist Yugoslavia when it hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. It was the first time the Winter Games had been held behind the so-called Iron Curtain. Most of the venues used in ‘84 are now abandoned, but not because of financial mismanagement.
Sarajevo was the scene of fierce fighting during the Balkans conflict of the early 1990s. The bobsled track, which is now abandoned except for graffiti artists and daredevil skateboarders, was used as a strategic position for snipers and artillery units during the siege of the city. Though the bobsled track is certainly one of the most dramatic remnants, most of the other remains in the Mount Trebević Olympic Park are also being slowly overtaken by nature.
Beijing National Aquatic Center
Beijing’s iconic Water Cube hosted swimming competition during the 2008 Summer Olympics. The boxy shape and lighted exterior walls of the venue made it a popular visual for networks broadcasting the Games. Unfortunately, the city had little use of the facilities after the torch was extinguished.
Shortly after the Olympics, however, the venue was renovated and turned into one of the world’s largest water parks. The project was completed in 2010. The Water Cube is scheduled to undergo more renovations, and it will be used to host curling during the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Berlin Hindenburg Building
The Hinderburghaus was used to host cultural performances and social events during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. It was part of the athletes’ village in Elstal, just outside of the city.
Shortly after the Games, the building was used as a barracks for the German army. In 1945, it was taken over by the Russian military. Since it was on the east side of the city, it was under communist control. It served as a barracks for Russian army officers throughout the Cold War. In 1992, the final Russian forces withdrew. The entire Olympic village is now a ghost town, though it has earned some interest from history buffs and curiosity seekers.
Athens Softball Stadium
The softball stadium used for the 2004 Summer Olympics is another example of a venue that has been abandoned. Some Greek officials have admitted that there was no plan in place for how to use this field and others after the ‘04 Games ended. Some of the major venues, such as the Olympic Stadium and the Olympic Village, have found tenants in the 12 years since the event ended, but the softball field stands as a testament to the country's lack of post-Games planning.
The field is part of the Helliniko Olympic Complex, which has sat vacant for years. According to a report from AFP, officials are still looking for private investors who are willing to clean up and renovate the venues.
The Dome at Sydney Showground
The circular Dome at the Sydney Showground has a roof that is 137 feet at its highest point. (Photo: Simon_sees/Flickr)
As Montreal proved, some cities are better at planning than others. The Dome and Exhibition Complex is in the middle of the Sydney Showground, which is itself a part of the larger Olympic Park. The Dome hosted handball and basketball games during the 2000 Olympics. The entire Showground complex has become a shining example of repurposing venues for other uses.
Now the Dome itself and the large exhibition halls next to it host conferences and trade shows. It may not be used for athletic competitions, but it does make some cameos in popular TV. The Australian version of the show American Gladiators, fittingly called Gladiators Australia, was filmed in the Dome, as were some episodes of the reality TV cooking competition "Junior Masterchef Australia."
National Olympic Stadium, Tokyo
Tokyo’s National Stadium hosted the track and field competition and the Opening Ceremonies of the 1964 Summer Olympics. It had been used over the years to host major soccer games at both the club and international levels.
When Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Summer Games, the decision was made to demolish the old stadium, which could hold around 50,000 people, and build a new one on the same site. The original plan was to have a new stadium complete by 2019, when Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup. The stadium may not be ready in time because of budgeting issues, but it should be open before the 2020 Games. Japan has promised an eco-friendly Olympics, building new stadiums on the sites of old ones and renovating venues that have already been constructed.
The Helsinki Tennispalatsi (Tennis Palace) was built in the 1930s. It was supposed to be used for the 1940 Summer Games, which were canceled because of the outbreak of World War II. The arena was used in 1952, when Helsinki finally got a chance to host. The preliminary rounds of the basketball tournament were held in the building.
After sitting in a state of disrepair for years, the building was refurbished, but the original design was retained. It is now a kind of cultural center. It houses the Helsinki City Art Museum, the Museum of Cultures and a multiplex movie theater run by Finnish cinema giant Finnkino.