7 European Olympic sites and stories
7 European Olympic sites and stories
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Summer Games shifting to summer 2021, I began reminiscing about the world-class sporting event staged every four years. As a child, I loved watching the pomp and pageantry of the opening and closing ceremonies, nail-biting finishes, thrilling underdog wins and heartbreaking defeats. I was lucky enough to attend the 1996 Games in Atlanta and have tried to visit as many Olympic sites in my travels as I can. In honor of the delayed games, here are some sites (and stories) to check out while stationed in Europe.
The birthplace of both ancient and modern-day Olympics, Athens is teeming with sporting history. The all-marble Panathenaic Stadium used in the original 1896 Games is still used today. The ceremonial torch relay to the next host city begins here. The Greek capital most recently hosted in 2004 and sadly, most of the venues have been largely abandoned and left in disrepair.
Often described as one of the most successful Summer Olympics, the 1992 Games held in Barcelona helped transform the Catalan city into an international must-visit destination. Hosting the first reunified German team, a post-apartheid South African team and, of course, the U.S. “Dream Team” in Basketball, it became one for the history books. Strategically located atop Montjuic, visitors can walk through the Olympic Stadium which was originally constructed in 1927. Check out the sweeping vistas of the picturesque city while strolling through the plaza.
Held during the Third Reich’s rise to power, the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin was an opportunity for Adolf Hitler to showcase his strength to the rest of the world. And while the Germans led the medal count, it was American track star Jesse Owens who stole the stage. The runner won four gold medals in sprints and the long jump. While many buildings were repurposed or destroyed during World War II, you can still tour the grounds of the Olympic Village. The Olympiastadion has been partially reconstructed, but still has the two imposing columns in front of the main entrance. Visitors can also check out the athlete’s village, Waldbühne Amphitheater and Maifeld, where other events were held.
Germany scored both the Summer and Winter Games in 1936. However, in order to host the winter events, Hitler mandated the adjoining towns of Garmisch and Partenkirchen become one entity. Alpine skiing events made their debut and it was also the first time the Olympic flame was lit for the duration of the games. Today, the ski jump is still in use for international competition each year. You can also tour what remains of the Olympiastadion, a popular starting point for the Partnachklamm hiking trail.
This beautiful Norwegian city hosted the first Winter Olympics not held the same year as the Summer Games in 1994. While records were shattered and history made, the ice-skating competition was marred by the infamous Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan rivalry, with the former going on to win a silver medal despite a calculated attack causing injury to one of her knees. Visitors to Lillehammer can still tour the Olympic Park, home to the opening and closing ceremonies and the ski jumps. A little further south is the Norwegian Olympic Museum which shares a fascinating and interactive narrative of the Olympics.
London currently holds the record of hosting the most amount of Olympic Games — a whopping three times (1908, 1948 and 2012). Although the U.K. was still piecing themselves back together after the destruction of WWII, they were called to host the first games post-war. Known for austerity, the Brits managed to pull it off. The 1948 Games were the first to be televised. In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II helped open the sporting event in fantastic style. Visitors to the city can check out Olympic Park which still houses the aquatic center (where Michael Phelps made history) and Olympic Stadium (now home to West Ham United Football Club).
Before Michael Phelps, there was another trailblazing American in the pool, Mark Spitz. At the 1972 Munich Games, he broke an astounding seven world records and captured gold in those seven events. However, the competitions were halted due to a terrorist attack by the Palestinian group Black September. They bursted into the hotel rooms of the Israeli team, killing two immediately. During the clashes which followed, all nine Israeli hostages were killed along with five of the attackers and a West German police officer. Today, the Olympiapark München is home to the stadium, the aquatic center, velodrome and Olympic Tower. Just north of the park is the former Olympic Village, which has been repurposed and rebuilt to accommodate university students.
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