Sometime in the future, thousands of athletes from more than 200 countries will gather in Tokyo for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad. For the competitors and spectators, it is an event packed with thrilling tests of brawn, technique, skill, and more. For the host city, they’re a massive undertaking of clean-up, construction, and traffic management. It’s like the Olympics of infrastructure.
Host cities must accommodate a flood of visitors and construct venues for events, as well as create the sprawling, famously raucous Olympic Villages, where the athletes fuel, recover, and carouse. All of this comes at a steep price: Tokyo’s 68,000-seat hub for the opening and closing ceremonies cost 156.9 billion yen, or more than $1.4 billion.
Though some Olympic buildings find second lives when the games wind down, many are either knocked down or left, rather unceremoniously, to decay. Just months after the games wrapped in Rio de Janeiro, for example, some venues were looted, stripped of seats and televisions. Years after the games in Athens, some practice pools were filled with dirty, brown water, and sports complexes were crumbling. Some buildings—or, at least, elements of them—can be saved. Tokyo’s new stadium features two mosaic murals that had been salvaged from the swimming venue used for the city’s 1964 games before that building was demolished in 2015.
Here’s where to find relics from Olympics past—ghostly reminders that the world’s biggest athletic competition requires Herculean construction and cleanup efforts, too.
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