Montreal’s Olympic Stadium is one of my all time favorite buildings in my home town, but it is surely the most controversial as well. While many cities vie for the chance to hold the Olympic games, not all cities have great success once they get to be the host city. Back in the 70’s, Montreal had a rather dynamic mayor (Jean Drapeau) who did his best to get Montreal put on the map, so to speak. He was instrumental in getting the World’s Fair to Montreal in 1967 (Expo 67), which many consider the most successful World’s Fair in history. He helped bring a Major League Baseball team to Montreal in 1969. The Montreal Expos played their home games in the Olympic Stadium from 1977 until they moved to Washington DC, in 2004. Then there were the Olympics in 1976. Sadly, they were marred in controversy and gaffes from the very beginning. Here are a few doozies (thanks to Wikipedia):
- The Olympic Flame was “electronically” transmitted via satellite from Athens to Ottawa, by means of an electronic pulse derived from the actual burning flame. From Ottawa, the flame was carried by hand to Montreal. After a rainstorm doused the Olympic flame a few days after the games had opened, an official relit the flame using his cigarette lighter. Organizers quickly doused it again and relit it using a backup of the original flame.
- In protest at a tour of South Africa by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby union team early in the year, Congo’s official Jean Claude Ganga led a boycott of 28 African nations as the IOC refused to bar the New Zealand team. Some of the nations (including Morocco, Cameroon and Egypt) had already participated, however, as the teams withdrew only after the first day. From Southern and Central Africa, only Senegal and Ivory Coast took part. Both Iraq and Guyana also opted to join the Congolese-led boycott.
- The Republic of China (Taiwan) team withdrew after Canada’s Liberal government, under Pierre Elliott Trudeau, informed it that it could not compete under the name “Republic of China”. This was done because Canada officially recognized the People’s Republic of China. Canada did try to compromise by saying that the people of the Republic of China could retain their national flag and anthem, but they refused. This would lead to 1979’s Nagoya Resolution, where the People’s Republic and Taiwan agreed that Taiwan would compete in the Olympics and other international sporting events as Chinese Taipei with a custom flag.
- Seating 58,500 at the time, the stadium was not fully completed in time for the Games due to problems with the unusual design and strikes by construction workers.
- Despite initial projections in 1970 that the stadium would cost only C$134 million to construct, strikes and construction delays served to escalate these costs. By the time the stadium opened (in an unfinished form), the total costs had risen to C$264 million.
- The East German women’s swimming team won all but two gold medals. They were accused of using anabolic steroids. When Shirley Babashoff (United States) accused her rivals of using anabolic steroids because of their big muscles and deep voices, an official from the East German team responded: “They came to swim, not to sing.”
- For the province of Quebec, the games were a financial disaster. It took decades to pay off nearly 2 billion dollars of debt that the 1976 summer games amassed.
Perhaps the design of the stadium was a bit ahead of it’s time, and all the grand innovations that French architect Roger Tallibert had envisioned were overly optimistic. The roof was to be the most interesting feature of the stadium. The plan was for the roof to be retractable and held in place by the tallest inclined structure in the world at 175 metres. However, the inclined tower that you see in the photos was not finished by the time the games began. The roof itself sat in a warehouse in France until 1982 and was only installed in 1987, at which point the tower had been finally completed.
Stadium facts (thanks again to Wikipedia)
- The record for attendance in the Olympic Stadium was set at a Pink Floyd concert in 1977, with 78,322 fans in attendance.
- Well over its original budget, the stadium ended up costing $770 million to construct. By 2006, the final cost had risen to $1.47 billion when calculating in repairs, modifications and interest paid out. It took taxpayers 30 years to finally pay off the cost, leading to its nickname of “The Big Owe” (a play on “The Big O”)
- A lone yellow seat on the 300 level commemorates a 534-foot (163 m) home run by Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
- The tower is one foot taller than the Washington Monument and is angled at 45 degrees. It is the world’s tallest inclined structure.
- In September of that 1991, one of the stadium’s 55-ton concrete beams fell, forcing the Expos to play part of their scheduled home games in opponent’s stadiums.
- The third roof in the stadium’s history is to be installed soon at a price of over 300 million dollars.
- The retractable roof never worked properly for very long. As a result, the roof has been closed since 1998.
- In January 1999, a 350 square metre portion of the roof collapsed, dumping ice and snow on workers that were setting up for the annual Montreal Auto Show.
- ‘The Montreal Olympics can no more have a deficit, than a man can have a baby.’ ~ Jean Drapeau, mayor of Montreal infamously stated when the city was awarded the 1976 Summer Games. The 1.6 billion dollar debt was finally paid off in 2006.
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