On the rocky road to Rio

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence -

Expo, the 1851 Great Ex­hi­bi­tion. It was per­haps the high point of Vic­to­rian ar­chi­tec­tural am­bi­tion and was moved from Hyde Park to Crys­tal Palace Park in 1854. The palace burnt down in 1936, but you can still see the steps, stat­ues and ter­races, plus the park con­tains Vic­to­rian cu­rios such as the fa­mous dinosaurs. There are even plans to rebuild the palace; crys­tal­pala­cepark.org.uk.

expo2015.org

THE IN­DE­PEN­DENT It’s (al­most) sum­mer Olympics time again and Rio de Janeiro is al­ready cop­ping heat over its Games le­gacy. More than a year be­fore the event, au­thor­i­ties ac­knowl­edge that a piv­otal Games pledge to clean up the Brazil­ian city’s wa­ter­ways won’t be met.

What the Games will bring to Rio over the long term re­mains to be seen but per­haps lessons will be learned from past hosts. Since the mod­ern sum­mer Olympics be­gan in Athens in 1896, 22 cities have played host, some mul­ti­ple times. Lega­cies range from smart re­gen­er­a­tion projects to sta­di­ums that are now white ele­phants.

Since Lon­don’s 2012 Games, its Olympics site has re­opened in stages as Queen El­iz­a­beth Olympic Park (its Twit­ter ac­count goes by the mod­est han­dle @no­or­di­nary­park). One of the Games’ icons, sculp­tor An­ish Kapoor and designer Ce­cil Bal­mond’s loopy ArcelorMit­tal Or­bit, is a popular at­trac­tion. Vis­i­tors can as­cend to the view­ing plat­form or de­scend, rather rapidly, on a freefall ab­seil. The view from Bri­tain’s tallest sculp­ture takes in ar­chi­tect Zaha Ha­did’s Aquat­ics Cen­tre – now mi­nus the con­tro­ver­sial spec­ta­tor wings tacked onto her orig­i­nal de­sign — along with the Olympic Sta­dium that will be­come West Ham United foot­ball club’s new home next year. Plans for a cul­tural precinct in­clude new spa­ces for the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum and Sadler’s Wells.

Bei­jing’s 2008 Games also fea­tured dis­tinc­tive ar­chi­tec­ture, par­tic­u­larly the Na­tional Sta­dium, bet­ter known as the Bird’s Nest. The ce­ram­ics-in­spired de­sign came from dis­si­dent Chi­nese artist Ai Weiwei, who in 2012 ex­pressed re­grets about his in­volve­ment. Vis­i­tors can tour the venue although many sug­gest it’s more pho­to­genic at night. The neigh­bour­ing bub­ble-cov­ered Aquat­ics Cen­tre, aka the Wa­ter Cube, at­tracted a new gen­er­a­tion by open­ing Happy Magic wa­ter­park in 2010.

The city that’s strug­gled most in re­cent times to tran­si­tion its Olympic venues is Athens, cra­dle of the mod­ern Games. Cer­tainly, the gov­ern­ment faces big­ger con­cerns than re­pur­pos­ing sport­ing venues. Greece’s econ­omy nose­dived af­ter the 2004 Games and is still bat­tling to deal with its debt cri­sis. One bright spot is Bad­minton Theatre, lo­cated within the sport­ing venue’s industrial fa­cade and now a cut­ting-edge en­ter­tain­ment venue.

Even Syd­ney took time find­ing its feet af­ter the 2000 Games, with or­gan­is­ers ad­mit­ting they didn’t fo­cus enough on the post-Games tran­si­tion. Olympic Park has come into its own, aided by in­fra­struc­ture that can shift tens of thou­sands of spec­ta­tors (tick­ets for many of the park’s events in­clude public trans­port). Sta­dium Australia, where Cathy Free­man won gold, is now ANZ Sta­dium. It holds 83,500 spec­ta­tors and hosts events from foot­ball games to AC/DC and Tay­lor Swift con­certs.

Host cities from the 1990s have be­come Olympic role mod­els for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. For the 1996 Games, At­lanta, Ge­or­gia, de­signed its main sta­dium so it could con­vert into a park for the At­lanta Braves base­ball team. For the 1992 Games, Barcelona made over its Mediter­ranean seafront, which is now one of the city’s liveli­est draw­cards, packed with jog­gers, swim­mers, sun­bathers and fiercely com­pet­i­tive domino play­ers.

KATRINA LOB­LEY

Clock­wise from above, the Atomium (Brussels 1958); China Pav­il­ion (Shang­hai 2010); Eif­fel Tower (Paris 1889); Palazzo Italia (Mi­lan 2015)

Com­peti­tors pass the Bird’s Nest, de­signed by Ai Weiwei for the Bei­jing 2008 Olympics

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