When I travel, there are a lot of things I try to look out for. For example, I try to find out if there are any UNESCO World Heritage Sites nearby. I do my best to try the local fare, both food and drink (particularly beer). But there’s one particular travel goal that perhaps sets me apart from many other travelers.
I love visiting Olympic stadiums. (Or should that be “stadia”?)
inside Bird’s Nest in Beijing, China
My fascination with the Olympics began when I saw the archer light the cauldron during the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games opening ceremonies. Since then, I’ve been following the Games almost religiously. Naturally, my interest in the Olympics is also reflected in my travels. Whenever possible, I try to visit the Olympic stadium of a particular city that hosted the Games. It’s a great piece of history, a reflection of the time when the city hosted the Olympics. Many stadiums also have a museum or gallery which depicts what the Games were like that year.
I have been to six cities which have hosted the Olympics. Unfortunately, I missed out on visiting the stadium in Amsterdam (1928) because of a tight schedule, and the one in Helsinki (1952) as the European Athletics Championships were being held there during my visit. As far as being at a city DURING the Summer Games, the closest I’ve come is the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010. Being at the Olympics is definitely a goal of mine, though, and I hope to fulfill that at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
At least I’ve visited four Olympic stadiums, from Games as far back as 100 years ago, to as recently as the one just four years ago. Here’s what they were like.
The first Olympic stadium I visited was in Munich, Germany. Sadly, the 1972 Summer Games are better remembered by the killing of nine athletes, coaches, and officials from Israel. That horrific event is marked by a simple memorial on the Olympic grounds.
I couldn’t really visit the stadium itself, as preparations were being made for Munich’s bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games (which it ultimately lost to Pyeongchang, South Korea). However, the stadium is located in a well-maintained Olympic Park, whose grounds include the stadium, pool, athlete’s village, and a tower. A climb up the tower provides fantastic views of the city.
This is another historic location. The 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany were held while Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party were in power, years before World War II. It is a clear example of Nazi architecture. In fact, the Olympic stadium had a lot of Nazi swastikas around, but they have since been removed, or (badly) hidden.
The stadium itself is imposing and impressive. There was something eerie about it as my friend and I walked towards it; the gathering storm clouds didn’t help. It must have been intimidating to see for the athletes at that time, and I’m sure that was exactly Hitler’s goal. Inside, it was beautiful. There were pillars listing (West) Germany’s Olympic champions through the years, and all sorts of statues. These days, the Olympiastadion is used by Berlin football team Hertha BSC for their home matches.
Beijing’s Olympic stadium is the newest (apart from the one in London this year), and perhaps it is one of the most iconic. The Bird’s Nest, as the National Stadium is commonly called, is an eye-catching landmark that’s perhaps the most recognizable of the stadiums. The interior is just as beautiful as the exterior. The Olympic Park in Beijing also includes the Water Cube, where Michael Phelps won his historic eight gold medals in swimming.
The Bird’s Nest has numerous artifacts and props used during the memorable opening ceremonies, with information about its relevance to China. Scenes from the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the 2008 Summer Olympic Games play on a screen in the stadium. Unfortunately, Bird’s Nest appears to be infrequently used; when I was there, the only noteworthy thing going on was the ability to rent a Segway for use around the track.
The Olympic stadium in Stockholm is the most recent one I’ve visited, and it is also the oldest. The capital of Sweden hosted the Olympics a hundred years ago, way back in 1912. Interesting fact about those Games: Apart from the usual sports, the 1912 Olympic Games also featured competitions (and awarded medals) in artistic fields: Literature, sculpture, architecture, painting, and music.
The stadium itself is quite non-descript, possibly the lowest-key of all four stadiums I have visited. The Olympic rings are displayed as discreetly as possible, unlike (for example) the big ones greeting you in Berlin. Still, the stadium itself is quite a beautiful old building built with brick. It is also still in use, and there was in fact some sort of youth or regional athletics event happening when my friends and I visited. Otherwise, it is also currently being used by Stockholm football club Djurgårdens IF for their home games, although they are moving out in 2013.