The Olympic flame burns during the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.Duncan Rawlinson/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons
As Sochi bustles with Olympic athletes and spectators, urban planners say the host city should keep one question in mind: After the closing ceremonies, what becomes of the legendary venues that host the Olympics?
Michigan State University professor Mark Wilson, who is teaching a free open online course about the societal impact of mega events like the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, and Eva Kassens-Noor, author of "Planning Olympic Legacies: Transport Dreams and Urban Realities," discussed some of the best and worst winter Olympic venues since the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, in 1924 -- as well as their prediction for how Sochi will rank (Hint: With a $51 billion price tag, it’s not even in the running for the best-of list).
Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding appear at the Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer.Caron-Orban/Corbis
Although it may be best remembered for the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan skating saga, the town of 23,500 is the top pick for Winter Olympic legacy: Long-term planning and creativity paid off big-time, Wilson and Kassens-Noor agree.
“They pioneered really amazing sustainable environmental practices,” Wilson said. “They made all the silverware and plates from potato starch and fed it to cattle afterward.” In the days before “zero-waste” was a common term, Lillehammer’s planning made it possible to offset much of the negative environmental impact that often mark both the Olympics and winter sports in general, Kassens-Noor said.
Also key in the aftermath is planning permanent sports structures that match the interest of the country. Lillehammer's cross-country venues are thriving.
"Lillehammer was well organized," Jon Teigland, a Norwegian social scientist, told CNN. "It really was a huge party. Was it worth $2 billion or not? It seems like a lot of Norwegians think that it was," Jon Teigland, a Norwegian social scientist, told CNN.
A gondola heads to the 1960 Winter Olympics High Camp in Squaw Valley.Frank Schulenburg/Wikimedia Commons
Like many early Winter Olympic venues, the Games put the tiny town of Squaw Valley in California on the worldwide map. Now, it’s a major ski destination. The first televised Games also helped popularize skiing on the West Coast.
Before the Olympics, Squaw Valley had one chairlift and lodging for 50 people. The Games helped the town develop the infrastructure, including roads, lodging and chairlifts, to turn it into a winter sports destination.
“The Olympic Winter Games were really what built up the resort,” said Amelia Richmond, a spokesperson for the Squaw Valley resort.
Squaw Valley also made wise decisions about building temporary structures for events that wouldn’t likely be used much after the Games, Wilson said.
Jeremy Teela takes aim during the men's 20-kilometer individual biathlon during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres
Salt Lake City overcame a bribery scandal and hosted a successful Olympics, generating a $100 million profit and raising the most local sponsor money of any Games to that point. Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson points to Utah's highways and light-rail system that can handle Olympic-sized crowds.
A shift to bigger cities such as Salt Lake City meant that much of the capacity was already in place, Wilson said. And Kassens-Noor points to the "longevity of the site being used as a winter sports destination."
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
While the death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training run at the Whistler track prompted the Guardian to label the Vancouver Olympics the worst Games ever, the city made smart decisions about budgeting, Wilson said.
“The entire Vancouver Olympics cost less than the train line alone in Sochi,” Wilson said. “A lot of the facilities were already in use; it didn’t have to build a lot of new things.” And the things it did spend money on, such as public transit, made future sense, he said.
“It’s never a mistake to link an airport by public transit,” he said.
A damaged Olympic symbol from the 1984 Winter Olympics near Sarajevo.Hedwig Klawuttke/Wikimedia Commons
The Bosnian War helped hasten the decay of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The site of the bobsled competition, for example, served as an artillery stronghold, and many of the venues have been abandoned.
“The president of the IOC flew to Sarajevo to visit the stadium that was in ruins after the war,” Wilson said. “It’s the loss of the hope that the Olympics brings.”
No amount of Olympic planning could have prevented the ruin that war brings; it’s just a sad story, Wilson said.
The American Olympic Hockey Team crowds onto the center podium at the Winter Olympics in, Lake Placid, N.Y.Jack Balletti/Corbis
Transportation is usually a headache for hosting the Olympics, but getting around the Lake Placid Games was particularly nightmarish: Spectators were told to buy tickets for alpine events on-site, for example, but weren’t able to get to the venue without holding a ticket.
"You have seven years to get your transportation together,” Olympic historian David Wallechinsk told Canada’s CBC News. “You have the advantage of seeing what mistakes have been made in the past. There’s really no excuse for this sort of thing."
A ceremony marks one year to go until the start of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. IOC/Mikhail Mordasov
The 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics have been “the poster child for what not to do,” Wilson said, having spent 30 years paying off its debt. And with a bill of at least $51 billion, Sochi is the lead candidate for worst Winter Olympic legacy even before the torch ignites the opening ceremonies, Wilson and Kassens-Noor agree.
“It’s winning the award for the worst Olympic city on cost alone,” Wilson said.
Security issues and the government’s stance on gay rights also threaten to taint the Olympics, he said, possibly even scaring sponsors away.
It’s also the warmest city to ever host a Winter Olympics.
“Worst remains Sochi due to the harsh impact on the environment and the relatively risky assessment of it being a viable site for winter sports,” Kassens-Noor said. “Sochi even had to stockpile snow on nearby mountains to ensure that the Games would be able to take place if the weather got too warm.”