Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.
After 16 days...
For 16 glorious days, the world's eyes are upon the Olympics. Hundreds of thousands pour into the host city and pack the brand-new venues and facilities. Hundreds of millions of dollars are pumped into the local economy as Olympic fever spreads like wildfire.
So the question arises: What becomes of the multi-million, often multi-billion, dollar Olympic venues after the closing ceremonies? Lately, most of these brand-new, state-of-the-art facilities will begin the rest of their existence in obscurity. It's an ever-growing list of former Olympic venues, fate uncertain. Some have been repurposed, others torn down. Yet an ever-growing number have simply been left to decay, abandoned by the very cities that built them. Once prestigious, most are now a financial burden so great, some cities have simply chosen to forget about them. A podium of world peace, now a monument of financial ruin.
The Paris 1924 Olympics brought prestige to a country rebuilding from the ruin of World War I. Once the Games closed, nearly all of the venues were either repurposed or dismantled. Today, only one venue, the Stade de Paris, has fallen into disuse and neglect. Built for the football games, the stadium enjoyed a long career in rugby long after the Games. In 1999 it was damaged by a storm and has since fallen into neglect.
The infamous 1936 'Nazi Games' kicked off in Berlin on the eve of the most destructive war the planet has ever known. Opened by none other than Adolf Hitler himself, the Games were exploited as a propaganda tool by its host nation to promote the German master race. Not surprisingly this philosophy met one embarrassing defeat after another. When war broke out two years later, the Nazi Olympics quickly faded into memory.
While some of the venues remained active in the decades following the Games, parts of Olympic Village fell into disrepair and disuse. The dormitories, the indoor training pool and several other buildings were left to nature. Only in the last 10 years has the German government moved to save these historic buildings from total decay. Only 25 of the 140+ buildings that were built still survive.
Cortina d'Ampezzo 1956
How could you have a winter Olympics without snow? That was the biggest problem at the Italian Games of 1956. A warm winter with little snowfall forced the Italian Army to truck in tons of the stuff for the events. These winter Olympics had many game-changing events: the last to have outdoor figure skating and the first to rely more on private and corporate sponsorships instead of government funding. The debut winter Games of the Soviet Union, which swept that event with more medals than any other.
Most of the venues enjoyed long careers after the Games that continue today. The Trampolino Olimpico fell silent after 1990 when its competition certificates expired. The jump built for the Games and later the Ski Jumping World Cup now rots away.
Germany couldn't escape its Olympic infamy as the Munich 1972 Games were quickly overshadowed by the "Munich Massacre." Eleven Israeli athletes and coaches were kidnapped from the Munich Olympic Village and killed by Palestinian terrorists.
Following the Games, the Olympiapark has remained largely in use. The Olympic Village has since been turned into apartments. Only the Olympic Village Train Station, purpose-built to accommodate the huge influx of people for the event has remained abandoned.
The world's most secretive country has always been selective about the Soviet Era Moscow Games. Even today, Russians choose to downplay them. Most of the Olympic arenas were converted from existing facilities, and once the event ended were quietly recycled or demolished.
One venue, however, has joined the ever-growing pantheon of abandoned Olympic facilities. The Linnahall Amphitheater in Estonia, purpose-built for the Soviet Games could not survive once the crowds returned home. The concrete landmass fell into disuse almost immediately after. Futile attempts by the Tallinn City Counsel to find a suitor failed and the venue closed permanently.
In what is now Bosnia, Sarajevo was the host of the 1984 Winter Olympics. A total of nine venues were built and used for the Games. After their 16 day spotlight, the venues were immediately abandoned as the region grew unstable and ultimately fell into civil war less than ten years later. Several, such as the bobsled venue, were used as military installations throughout the Bosnian War. They have remained abandoned ever since. Only the Zetra Olympic Hall, the venue that saw the closing ceremonies, remains in active use.
It's unusual to see a U.S.-hosted Olympic venue fall into disrepair, yet that ominous title falls to the 1996 Centennial Games in Atlanta. The historic Games were haunted by tragedy when a pipe bomb exploded at Centennial Park killing one and injuring 111. Despite this, the event was a financial success, something seemingly rare in the modern Olympics. Nearly all of the venues were recycled and enjoyed long careers in the decades that followed.
Despite Atlanta's efforts, some of the venues have since fallen into neglect. When Olympic Stadium was converted into Turner Field, the Olympic Torch was moved to its current location next to a freeway where it's been all but forgotten. The Stone Mountain Tennis complex, built for the Games, achieved its abandonment title in 2007. All sixteen courts are slowly falling down.
In the founding city of the Olympics, 10 years plus after its events, the Olympia in Athens is a total ruin. Once the most complete sports complex in all of Europe, it is now a symbol of Greece's misplaced extravagance and ruined economy.
As probably the worst example of an abandoned park, nearly all of it has been left to decay. The few venues that are still in use haven't been maintained in years. Rust stains the paint, graffiti is everywhere. Many of the buildings haven't been used since the Games at all and still sport their "Athens 2004" vinyl banners now shredded and sun eaten. Venues like the beach ball volleyball stadium, weightlifting, table tennis and swimming have all been left to rot. Many Greeks blame the 2004 Olympics for contributing to their country's economic collapse. Imagine spending over $11 billion on an Olympic Village, using it once, and then abandoning it. Only Olympic Stadium has remained actively used.
The only thing that separates these modern ruins from the neighboring Parthenon are several thousand years and the collapse of the Roman Empire.
The opulence and extravagance of the 2008 Olympics in China shattered all expectations across the globe. Nearly 5 million visitors filled the park in a spectacle that will probably never be seen again. City blocks of fireworks, billions of LED lit screens, thousands of drummers, singers, it was shattering to say the least. The one billion people of China supported the Olympics at a staggering scale. But now...
Everyone knows someone who lives only for the moment, who rarely looks to the future in terms of financial or career plans. One could compare the 2008 Olympics as that person. Officials admitted that the organizers failed to consider long term uses for such purpose specific venues. The Games were truly historic, the first Chinese hosted Olympics. Naturally, the Chinese wanted to send a statement to the world, that they would spare no expense regardless of the long-term consequences.
Communist China's natural fear of large crowds also contributes to the infrequent use of much of the park. The famous Bird's Nest stadium is so infrequently used that its management team estimates that it would take 30 years to recuperate the $480 million it cost to build it. The Water Cube, built next door, is barely breaking even and is only doing so with government funding.
Other venues have been completely abandoned, like the kayaking course, volleyball stadium, and the rowing course.
Remember the Sochi problems? There's an ongoing one now.
After putting Russia back on the map with the most expensive Winter Games in history, the venues at Sochi now sit silently. Built to serve not only the Olympics in 2014, but as Russia's center for international events for the foreseeable future. At least that was President Putin's ideal plan. But as the region slowly deteriorates into civil unrest, Sochi sits idle, adding yet another site to the list of abandoned Olympic venues.
Russian promises of a sustainable future at the Sochi complex just aren't panning out. After dropping $51 billion on the state of the art campus, Russia has struggled to find a purpose for its former Olympic venue. Some have dubbed it the "Museum of Corruption" since Russia hasn't recovered the cost of Sochi and won't for the foreseeable future. The companies that own the complex skirt bankruptcy with its daily operating costs. Only time will tell if Sochi will join Athens in total abandonment.
With problems rivaling Sochi in the weeks leading up to the games, incomplete buildings and contaminated water were just the tip of the iceberg. Hell, the Australian team even refused to move into the Olympic Village. Can't forget how the swimming pool turned green either. If these are bad omens for the campus after the games, then nobody should be surprised that less than a year after the games, the stadiums joined the ever-growing League of Ruins.
Rio's $12 billion price tag has pushed Brazil into civil unrest now that the country has simply run out of uses and money to deal with the campus and its buildings. Brazil had big plans for the venues, toting them as a campus of recycling and repurpose. Yet it's become clear that these plans have been put on hold due to lack of funds.
Rio's tropical climate as taken its toll on these facilities now that the country has halted maintenance. In less than a year, their condition rivals that of the 2004 Athens games.
Despite the Games being an economic success for South Korea, Pyeongchang finds itself fighting from becoming the latest in the sad trend of disparity that is the lasting legacy of the venues.
A series of controversies have embattled the complex since its construction. Since the games closed, the country has found itself in a war of accountability over upkeep and future purpose. Pyeongchang is one of the poorest counties in South Korea and the games were pitched as a way to turn the region into a tourist boomtown. That dream has yet to materialize and now Pyeongchang finds itself huge upkeep costs. A legal battle between the county and national government over who should pay for maintenance has plagued the area since the closing ceremonies.
It's not uncommon for some venues to be built only as temporary structures and seemed to be Korea's only remaining solution. To avoid annual maintenance costs, the Olympic Sliding Centre was completely shut down and basically mothballed. The government then tore down the Pyeongchang's Olympic stadium after only four uses post games, leaving barren earth. This has only fed the controversy fire. To build the facility originally, the Korean government chose to clear an old growth rare-wood forest. Now with the decision to raze many of the buildings, leaving only barren land as the lasting legacy of Pyeongchang.
As the world bunkered down in early 2020 in response to the pandemic, eyes were on whether or not the Tokyo 2020 Olympics would be on hold or outright canceled. As of March 2020, both Canada and Australia announced they would not be sending athletes to compete due to health concerns.
As you can imagine, the stakes were high for Japan, a nation already rattled by the global economic collapse. The billions of dollars they spent preparing for the Olympics hangs in the balance. Only time will tell whether these venues are used or abandoned—or both.
© 2012 Jason Ponic
Kyan Blaise on April 05, 2019:
That’s very sad
Travel Chef from Manila on September 05, 2018:
Most places spent a huge amount of money just to build these Olympic venues, then eventually get abandoned. So sad that all of these happened.
Jason Ponic (author) from Albuquerque on February 06, 2018:
This article is about the abandoned venues, not the successful ones.
Gord on February 06, 2018:
I note you haven't commented on the successes... 2010 Vancouver photos are notably absent.
S. Watkinson on January 31, 2018:
What a disgusting waste of money when people are so lacking the bare essentials all around the world. We are sad people, sickenly sad.
Mike McKinley from Kent, UK on July 11, 2017:
Wow, a very interesting collection of images and stories. I didn't realise just how badly some of the recent venues had fallen into disrepair already.
Monuments to largesse and vanity I guess. I'm sure the people of Athens and Rio are delighted.
SteffenDK on August 16, 2016:
It's a shame see these giant monuments standing empty and abandoned .
It should become law to the countries to take turn to hold the Olympics games.
So places like these could be kept alive for athletes worldwide.
Nator on February 22, 2014:
Surely Moscow and Sarajevo were commuinst hosted Olympics before Beijing?
FlourishAnyway from USA on May 24, 2013:
What a shame that the venues are now eyesores. I wish that plans for ongoing use of the venues were among selection factors for the cities. Good hub.
Jason Ponic (author) from Albuquerque on August 20, 2012:
I couldn't agree more.
FreezeFrame34 from Charleston SC on August 19, 2012:
Very interesting. It is a shame that every country wants to be lavish and spend money that they don't have.