Look at these places now, and imagine them as they once were during the Olympic Games!
When we watch the Olympics on television, we rarely think about the circumstances that brought the games to their chosen venues. Sure, each location gets roundly celebrated with the opening and closing ceremonies. During these spectacular shows, we get to see regional performers, customs, and dances, all meant to reflect the breadth of a city’s (and oftentimes, a whole nation’s) history. But we don’t always comprehend what hosting the games might mean to the people who live there, the potential long-term costs of putting on the games, and what becomes of the structural elements that made hosting the Olympics a possibility in the first place. While many see hosting the Olympics as a surefire way of boosting an area’s economy, this isn’t always the case. Turmoil, both economic and war-related, has left behind many of these once-glorious buildings and structures—a startling reminder that the fanfare around these games is often only short-lived. Look at some amazing pictures of some of these structures below.
The Olympic Sports Complex and the Bobsleigh and Luge Track, Sarajevo Winter Olympics 1984
In 1977, Sarajevo was chosen to host the 1984 Olympic winter games. Soon after, the Sarajevo Bobsleigh and Luge Track was proposed and approved, beginning construction in the summer of 1981. The massive complex hosted as many as 30,000 spectators for bobsleigh and luge competitions during the Olympics, and would be used for World Cup matches in the years to follow, but unfortunately turmoil was on the horizon. During the Bosnian War, the track would be damaged during the Siege of Sarajevo, with Bosnian-Serb forces using the structure as a strategic artillery position.
Sarajevo has rebuilt in many ways since the war-torn early ’90s, with many new and modern building complexes, but as you see above, the ruins of the Bobsleigh and Luge Track remain. The track has since become popular as a canvas for graffiti, and its curved, tube-like structure makes it appealing as a raceway for daredevil bikers.
And while portions of the Zetra Olympic Hall have been rebuilt and remain in use, the mark of the war lives on perhaps most strikingly in the city’s once-grand Olympic Sports Complex. In addition to suffering substantial damage, the venue also became a makeshift cemetery for those killed during the siege, with wooden seats repurposed to build coffins for the dead.
Ski Jump Tower, Cortina d’Ampezzo Winter Olympics 1956
In Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, you’ll find the awe-inspiring remains of the 1956 Winter Olympic games. At the time, this ski jump was the most advanced in the world, and it’s incredible how much work went into building (and rebuilding) it. The jump was first constructed in 1923, well before the Olympic games were even announced for Cortina. Then, in 1926, the length of the jump was extended, just in time for the 1927 Nordic World Ski Championships and the first FIS Ski Jumping World Cup (the FIS, by the way, is the International Ski Federation). The F.I.S. changed their regulations, and the jump was completely demolished in 1939 before being rebuilt in 1940 as Italia. Lastly, due to Olympic regulation, the venue was once again completely demolished and reconstructed in 1955, just in time for the 1956 games. It lives on, perhaps most notably, as the site of the ski chase in the 1981 James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only(and, speaking of relics, this was when Roger Moore started to show his age).
Now, after losing its F.I.S. certification in 1990, the structure stands mystifyingly against a placid, wooded backdrop, almost surreal in its beauty. The tall trees that surround it, and the symmetry of the stands, lend it strange grandeur not unlike what you’d find in more ancient ruins.
Hellinko Olympic Softball Stadium and Olympic Village, Athens Summer Olympics 2004
Maybe the most startling change of all is one from only a little over a decade ago. The Summer Games in Athens occurred just 12 years ago in 2004—but since then, Greece has grappled with 6 years of economic depression, with record-high rates of unemployment, homelessness, and poverty.
During these economically tough times for the people of Greece, what was once symbolic of coming prosperity has been forever tainted. The remains of the 2004 games now serve instead as a reminder of a failed promise—things worth considering while viewing the games in Rio, itself currently in the midst of economic and political unrest.