In what was formerly a run-down district full of vacant lots, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games decided to build the main gathering place for the 1996 summer games: Centennial Olympic Park. Although marred by a terrorist bombing during the Olympics, more than a decade of happier memories have helped redefine how Atlantans think of this space. After a post-Olympic facelift, it reopened to the public in 1998 and has since become a catalyst for downtown redevelopment. Children love to splash in the fountain of rings, and visitors enjoy year-round events, ride the ferris wheel and take walks in one of America’s most iconic downtown parks.
Centennial Olympic Park is only one example of how Atlanta built not just for the Olympics, but for the future of the city. There’s also Turner Field. Prior to Atlanta’s successful Olympic bid, the Braves had considered leaving Atlanta for the suburbs, but plans for the new Olympic stadium were decisive in keeping the team in the city. The key, according to a 2005 story in the New York Times, was to design a ballpark that could accommodate the Olympics rather than an Olympic stadium that could fit a ballpark. The result was Turner Field, which became home of the Braves less than a year after the closing ceremonies, and has been ever since.
Designed to withstand Montreal’s harsh winters, this futuristic building, originally called the Olympic Velodrome, was the first indoor venue to host Olympic cycling. (Judo events were also held there.) Indoor cycling didn’t quite pan out post-Olympics the way planners had hoped, so in 1989 renovations to convert it into an indoor zoo began. Reopening as the Montreal Biodome in 1992, the building houses replicas of five biospheres, populated with 4,500 animals.
In 2012, Berlin’s former Olympic park became home to a cricket club. To understand how a decidedly non-German sport set up shop in the vast sports complex now called Olympiapark Berlin, you have to look at its twisted history. Originally conceived by Hitler himself, the park, then called the Reichssportfeld, was designed to be a showpiece of Nazi power for the 1936 Olympics. It was huge, containing the 110,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, a 28-acre lawn for polo and dressage events (and future Nazi rallies), and the Waldbühne, a forest theater where gymnastics were staged. After the war the complex became the headquarters of the British military in Berlin until the 1990s, and hence the logical place to introduce such British customs to Germany as playing rugby and, yes, cricket. The stadium has hosted several World Cup soccer matches, including the 2006 final, and the rest of the park is now open to athletes and visitors alike. The stadium has also been the home of the soccer club Hertha BSC since 1963.
The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich were Germany’s (or rather, West Germany’s) chance to show the world a new face after the infamous Nazi-hosted games of 1936. The Olympic park was built on top of a grassed-over mountain of WWII rubble that became home, in intervening decades, to refugee camps and the U.S. Military. A weblike “tensile” structure covers much of the park, which contains the Olympic Stadium, the indoor Olympic Hall and a host of other sporting venues. Designed to be a permanent fixture in the revitalized city, Olympiapark Munich is now the center of the city’s sporting culture—until recently the soccer club Bayern Munich called Olympic Stadium home—and is a regular staging area for such varied events as the X Games and the Watchtower Congress of Jehovah's Witnesses.
One look at Washington University’s modest football stadium—it seats only 4,000—and you’d never guess it once hosted the Summer Olympiad. That may be because the 1904 games, the first in the U.S., were a bust. Like Paris four years earlier, the Olympics were rolled into the World’s Fair and spread out over several months with little fanfare and organization. Francis Field was the main venue, but even then it only held 19,000 spectators. It has since been the home of the Washington University Bears and hosted a smattering of minor sporting events, including a Division III soccer championship and the National Junior Olympic Games. It’s now best known for being one of the oldest active sports venues in America.
Refurbished in the 1860s by Greek businessman Evangelis Zappas, this ancient, all-marble stadium dating to the 6th century B.C. has a long history prior to hosting the first modern Olympic games in 1896 and the archery competition in 2004. It was the home of the Panathenaic Games—an Athens-only version of the ancient Olympics—for nearly 800 years, and then became the home of Olympic revivals in 1870 and 1875 and the unofficial “Intercalated Games” of 1906. The now-unconventional hairpin shape of its track makes it a modern oddity, but its stone seats still hold 45,000 people and it’s an occasional venue for concerts and other events. Not bad for a stadium that’s over 2,500 years old.
The only cycling track to serve as the main Olympic stadium, the Vélodrome de Vincennes hosted cycling, gymnastics, rugby and soccer in the 1900 summer games, which were held as part of the World’s Fair. (According to the IOC’s website, many of the games’ athletes had no idea they were taking part in the Olympics.) The velodrome was used again in the 1924 games, this time exclusively as a cycling venue, but it’s most famous for being the finish line of the Tour de France from 1968 to 1974, during which cycling legend Eddy Merckx won the yellow jersey five times. The velodrome is still in use today.
Perhaps no Olympic venue has had such a colorful and varied history as the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Opening seven years ahead of the 1932 summer games, in which it was used for boxing, wrestling and weightlifting, the auditorium was once the largest indoor venue in the United States, seating over 15,000 people. It was a major boxing arena during the sport’s golden era—see a young Cassius Clay at a 1962 weigh-in—and later became known for hosting professional wrestling and roller derby. In a bizarre twist, the Olympic became a celebrated punk rock venue in the 1980s, hosting bands like Black Flag (center) and Bad Religion in their heyday. And then in 2005 came another left turn: it was converted into a Korean megachurch.
Built in the 1920s as a memorial to WWI veterans, this national historic landmark has the distinction of being the first stadium to host two Olympic Games. Over the years it’s been the home of both USC and UCLA football, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and multiple pro football teams. Due to its enormous size—current capacity is 93,000—it’s set its share of attendance records, drawing 115,000 spectators to an exhibition baseball game in 2008. This summer USC signed a 98-year lease, meaning it may be approaching 200 years old by the time its days as a colliseum are over. Who knows? Maybe a third stint as an Olympic host is in its future.
Part of the reason Tokyo won its bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics is simple preparedness: the city already has plenty of locations capable of staging Olympic-level competition, thanks in large part to its hosting of the 1964 games. Rather than build brand new, uber-expensive venues as has practically become Olympic custom, Tokyo is overhauling National Olympic Stadium and two other old Olympic venues, the Nippon Budokan and Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. If the stadium renderings are any indication, the redesign (pictured), by star architect Zaha Hadid, looks to give Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” a run for its money in the futurism department. The stadium will seat 80,000 (up from 48,000), have a retractable roof, and integrate “seamlessly” into the surrounding city, say the designers.
Speaking of the Budokan, this martial arts hall was constructed as an Olympic judo venue in 1964 and will be reused as such in 2020. Although it continues to host martial arts competitions, the Budokan’s real claim to fame is being one of the most celebrated concert venues in the world. Ever since the Beatles became the first band to play the hall in 1966, dozens of acts have made a point of recording live albums there, the most well-known being Cheap Trick at Budokan. Rock on.