CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Olympic venues cost billions to construct, with each new host vying to create architectural masterpieces that outdo their predecessors. Notable examples of this are Beijing’s Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, the track stadium and aquatics center that cost an estimated 471 and 200 million dollars to construct, respectively. Lauded for their architectural beauty, these structures now represent the debt the Chinese government will be paying off for the next three decades.
Although some Olympic structures have been repurposed, many haven’t been used in years. In honor of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, here is a list of former Olympic venues now in utter disrepair.
1976: Montreal, Canada
These games are best remembered by its boycott by 22 African countries, Nadia Comaneci’s first-ever perfect score on the uneven bars, and a behemoth of a stadium that confounds city officials to this day.
Cost—the “Big O” stadium, originally estimated to cost $134 million, eventually came to $1.61 billion and wasn’t finished until 1987, 11 years after the Montreal games took place.
Current Status—the Olympic structures haven’t hosted a steady tenant since 2004 when the Montreal Expos baseball team relocated to Washington D.C. Skateboarders are its current informal tenants, but the city’s government has been toiling with demolition plans. Like its dramatic and costly rise, the white elephant’s demolition could be just as costly: a 2009 preliminary report estimated the cost of its destruction at $700 million.
1984: Sarajevo, Bosnia
The 1984 Winter Olympics held in Sarajevo marked the second consecutive Olympics held in a communist country and preceded the Bosnian War by eight years.
Cost—17 million dinars, or $12 million, for all expenses related to the games.
Current Status—The Olympic structure like the bobsled and luge track were used as an artillery position during the Siege of Sarajevo. More recently, skateboarders and graffiti artists are the site’s main visitors. Even more horrifying, the Olympic Podium, now riddled with bullet holes, was used as an execution site during the siege.
2004: Athens, Greece
Greece hosted the XXVIII competition during a period of great prosperity caused by the country’s adoption of the Euro in 2001. Since then, the country’s economy has collapsed and its inhabitants have faced extreme austerity measures, including Olympic athletes.
Cost—$14 billion, more than double Greece’s initial budget.
Current Status—despite plans to turn the athletic venues into Europe’s largest metropolitan park, weeds and detritus now litter the baseball stadium and the canoe/kayak slalom is bone dry.
2008: Beijing, China
China was renowned for its visually stunning opening ceremonies, although it experienced a hiccup in the form of a young girl who mimed “Ode to the Motherland,” while the ‘less’ attractive actual performer sang backstage.
Cost—an estimated $43 billion, although the exact figures remain unknown
Current Status— perhaps the most notorious of the bunch, China’s grandiose Olympic structure has fallen into quiet ruin. Despite plans to convert its venues into a leisure center complete with tennis courts, a water park, retail outlets, nightclubs and restaurants, many of the buildings stand unused. While the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, the two most famous structures from the games, receive tourist traffic, the rest are hardly used at all. Some of the disuse arose from inexperience with managing large-scale athletic events, while others derive from the country’s disinterest in sports like rowing and kayaking.
As for Sochi, CNN reports it as the most expensive game in Olympics history; $50 billion and rising. Whether these costs are attributed to bigger and better facilities is another question entirely. Critics of Vladimir Putin, question the reported costs of the Olympics thus far.
Notable Putin-opponents like former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov argue that the exorbitant costs can only be attributed to corruption and kickbacks. Nemtsov reports that low quality work pervade the Olympic venue and endanger the environment.
– Emily Bajet
Sources: CNN, CNN, New York Times, Time, Popular Mechanics, Flavor Wire, Travel China Guide, The Atlantic Cities, Olympic, Official Reports , PBS, Montreal Gazette