Greeks were proud and excited when they won the honor to host the 2004 Summer Olympics, and the Greek government spared no expense. They built more than 20 new facilities for the athletes to compete in. The venues were gorgeous.
Then, after just 17 days, the spectacle was over. All the medals had been handed out. All the athletes were on their way home. Not long after the games ended, Greece was rocked by a paralyzing economic recession.
The public’s response changed overnight. Now all that spending on the Olympics looked like hubris. There were no plans for using the properties once the games concluded.
With no idea what to do with the structures, the Greek government fenced many of them off and left them to the elements. More than a decade later, these abandoned venues are showing serious decay. They’re lonely places, and they’re not just limited to Athens; this sort of thing happens all over the world.
Here’s what we mean.
1. Olympic Softball Stadium, Athens, Greece, 2004 Summer Games
Nearly all of the buildings the Greeks built for the 2004 Summer Olympics are now abandoned. One of these was a softball stadium. Greeks don’t really play softball; it’s an unknown sport in that nation.
Now weeds grow up through the bleachers that once held screaming fans from all over the world. It’s unclear what will happen to this building or any of the new construction projects rushed to completion in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics.
2. Olympic Village, Athens, Greece, 2004 Summer Games
Even Athens’ Olympic Village, where the competitors in the 2004 Summer Olympics lived during the games, is completely abandoned now.
The city of Athens had plans to convert the old Olympic Village into a public housing project, but there wasn’t enough money even for this relatively minor renovation. The village sits empty now, despite requests from thousands of families to move into the stalled project.
3. Olympic Village, Berlin, Germany, 1936 Summer Games
The oldest surviving Olympic Village is not surviving well. Of the 145 buildings that the Germans originally built on this site, only 25 still stand.
This site housed 4,000 male athletes in the summer of 1936. It was the year that American track and field star Jesse Owens won four gold medals, publicly challenging Adolf Hitler’s diseased ideas of racial supremacy.
After those remarkable Olympic Games, the German Army used the site as additional barracks leading up to and during the Second World War. When Germany was defeated by the Allies in 1945, the Soviet Army moved in to take their place.
The Soviets used the property for the next 50 years but rarely repaired or replaced crumbling infrastructure. By 2012, most of the buildings had fallen down. The few that still stand, such as a theater, a dining hall, and an empty swimming pool, are in serious disrepair.
4. Stone Mountain Tennis Center, Atlanta, Georgia, 1996 Summer Games
At the 1996 Summer Olympics, the United States dominated at the sport of tennis. Andre Agassi and Lindsay Davenport won gold medals for the men’s and women’s singles division, respectively.
Their accomplishments do not show on the courts of today. The Atlanta organizers set all tennis events at the Stone Mountain Tennis Center deep in Stone Mountain Park. The assumption was that it would remain a permanent tennis site, charging membership fees and providing lessons to interested amateurs.
Instead, Atlantans lost interest in the tennis facility. It did not turn a profit. Eventually, the city turned its back on the courts. Just over 20 years after hosting some of tennis’ all-time greats, the courts are breaking down. Weeds grow through cracks in the clay. The nets themselves are torn and decaying.
It doesn’t seem that anyone will play here again.
5. Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2016 Summer Games
Just six months after the closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro was too broke to repurpose its Olympic buildings. The organizers are deep in debt. They owe creditors something close to $40 million.
In the meantime, no one is paying for upkeep on Maracana Stadium, which once hosted both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 summer games.
Vandals occasionally break in and tear the stadium apart. Until all sides of the dispute come to a resolution over at least $1 million in unpaid utility bills, no one will be able to use this once-stately building.
6. Olympic Aquatic Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2016 Summer Games
Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão used this abandoned aquatic stadium as a frame for her giant canvas. She built these swirling tapestries and hung them from the building, giving it, for now, a noble purpose once more.
7. Royal Air Force Housing, London, England, 1948 Summer Games
This ancient and shuttered military base was the home of around 2,000 athletes from all over the world during the 1948 Summer Olympics. It held on until 2010, when the Royal Air Force shut it down. It’s been locked behind fencing ever since.
The 1948 Olympics were unique in that London didn’t construct any new buildings for the games. They used existing infrastructure for all the events. This was due to the strict economic limits London found itself under following the expenses of the long and terrible war with the Axis powers, which had ended just a few years before the 1948 games.
In addition to housing athletes at the Royal Air Force base, London put visitors up in unused student housing buildings in Willesden and Richmond Park. At least these abandoned buildings had a life before the Olympics.
8. Hotel, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1984 Winter Games
The 1984 Olympics were the first games of their kind to be held in a Communist country. The city of Sarajevo had a lot to prove to the world.
They hosted athletes at fine hotels around the city, including this one. However, the civil wars of 1992 through 1996 toppled many of the historic buildings used in the ’84 Olympics. Not much remains of this hotel besides its foundation.
9. Podium, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1984 Winter Games
Although the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina destroyed many buildings, it managed to leave this leadership podium standing. There are good odds that a competitor from East Germany stood on that podium.
East Germans won a total of nine gold medals, along with nine silver and six bronze medals. The Soviet Union came in second, with six gold medals, 10 silver, and nine bronze medals.
10. Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia, 1980 Summer Games
Linnahall, a sports complex in Tallinn, Estonia, has the rare distinction of actually still being used occasionally. But it isn’t in good shape.
It was the main center for the 1980 Summer Olympics. The brutalist architecture conceals a 5,000-seat amphitheater and an ice hall for winter sports. Unfortunately, the construction wasn’t designed to last for decades and decades. Much of the building is now crumbling.
That could change soon. The city government of Tallinn is working with contractors on a 65 million–euro renovation of the decaying building. They’ve tried something like this before, but efforts stalled out in 2010.In April 2016, Tallin Vice Mayor Arvo Sarapuu told magazine the Baltic Course, “We set out with the Linnehall detailed plan some time ago and it’s been an awful lot of work. All the authorities have their wishes and questions, which is making the process difficult.”However, Sarapuu said, “It is our clear wish to renovate the Linnahall by 2018. It’s a big project and the city government intends to follow through with it.”