What happens to Olympic host cities after the final medal is awarded?
Photographers Jon Pack and Gary Hustwit visited 13 cities to find out
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on May 4, 2013.
The Olympics are a time for countries to come together and compete for glory, and the host cities use the event as a moment to shine.
But what happens when the eternal flame moves on?
In 2008, “all the coverage was talking about how much money was being spent on the Olympics in Beijing,” Pack said. “It was so surprising that instead of talking about the athletes or the sports, they were talking so much about the facilities and amount of money.”
The Beijing Olympics are estimated to have cost China between $40 billion and $44 billion, making them the most expensive. The numbers dwarf those of the 2004 Olympics, which cost Greece about $15 billion, and the 2012 Olympics, which set the United Kingdom back almost $14 billion.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around it,” Pack said.
After the Beijing Games ended, Pack decided to travel to two-time Winter Games host Lake Placid, New York, and Summer Games host Montreal to find out what was left of the Olympics in those cities.
The impact of the games on Lake Placid – population 2,500 – is still visible today in the “dusty windows” of shops that offer a selection of Olympic memorabilia from 1980, Hustwit said.
The larger, more developed cities that Pack and Hustwit visited seem to have lost a purpose for the structures built to serve the games.
Now, the infrastructure that once hosted the greatest athletes in the world is passed by every day, unnoticed by most, according to Pack.
“Those are the places you see these white elephants,” Hustwit added.
The 2004 Games in Athens put the Greeks in the spotlight, but now the glory of the Olympics has faded, and the city is left with empty structures, according to Hustwit.
Barcelona, Spain, utilized its time as host in 1992 to build 50 years of infrastructure in about six, Pack said.
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It was organic growth for Barcelona, as opposed to cities like Athens or Beijing, which built edifices “for a two-week party,” Hustwit said.
Los Angeles, the Summer Olympics host in 1932 and 1984, proved itself to be an exception to the pair’s observations.
No infrastructure was built for the ‘84 Olympics because the city utilized facilities built for the ‘32 Olympics, except a couple structures paid for by corporate sponsors.
The repurposing and first corporate sponsorship of the Games allowed Los Angeles to actually make a profit of about $200 million from the 1984 Games, Hustwit said.
L.A. facilities are still being used today, including the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home to the University of Southern California’s football team.
Ironically, L.A.’s frugal practices in 1984 began the competitive nature of the bids to host the Olympic Games.
Just as the cost of hosting the Olympics can take its toll, photographing 13 of those host cities can get expensive.
Pack and Hustwit raised a little over $66,000 on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter and even had donors vote on which cities they would visit next, resulting in trips to Moscow and Berlin.
Each photographer traveled to each city on his own, sometimes visiting the same cities at different times. Though the duo weren’t working side by side, they communicated to one another through their images.
“I remember what Jon was shooting, and then (that would) kind of inform what I was shooting,” Hustwit said. “We had this kind of call and response.”
From the remnants of the Bosnian War in Sarajevo to the “out-of-proportion” magnitude of Beijing, Pack and Hustwit were able to find the unique qualities of each city and unite them through the edifices that once had the eyes of the entire world upon them.