Every four years, the Olympic Games provide us with yet another reason to love summertime. Even on the hottest days it comes with permission to turn the television on, so we can be mesmerized by this spectacle that has a unique way of uniting the world. The Olympics spans across cultures and ages, dissolving the real, and invisible, borders between us. Much like travel itself, the Games brings us together.
We’re preparing for the next two weeks in Rio de Janeiro by looking back at some of the most stellar Olympic Games host cities, and stand-out moments, from the past 100-some years. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to visit these places on your next trip and make even more golden memories.
London, England, 2012
The only city to have hosted the Games three times, it seems that London’s practice made its execution just about perfect in 2012. Cool technological advances promised 2012 would run smoother than back in 1908 and 1948, but the city was praised for its top-notch organization and wealth of enthusiastic local volunteers. When you visit the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford today, you’ll find Anish Kapoor’s Olympic Statue transformed into the world’s largest tunnel slide. It takes 40 seconds to get to the bottom, so you can consider yourself some kind of champion when you reach solid ground again.
Standout Moment: American swimmer Michael Phelps broke Soviet Union gymnast Larisa Latynina’s record for the most Olympic medals ever won, with 22 medals. In London’s 1948 games, the first wheelchair athletes competed, thanks to the support of Dr. Ludwig Guttman who used sport therapy to help WWII veterans compete in the games. The Paralympics is now having its fifteenth games in Rio in September.
Paris, France, 1900
At the second Olympic Games of the modern era, athletes and fans didn’t quite have the same schedule we’ve become accustomed to. Instead, competitions took place on Sundays. Most major events, like rugby, gymnastics, cycling and cricket, took place in the Vélodrome de Vincennes. When you visit Paris today, you can venture southwest to the 12th Arrondissement to the Bois de Vincennes and head to the Velodrome de Vincennes which still exists as a cycling stadium. The games returned to Paris a quarter of a century later in 1924.
Standout moment: This was the first Olympic Games where women were permitted to compete. Two women walked away with medals, first Swiss national Hélène de Portalès for sailing, and Brit Charlotte Cooper for tennis.
Where to stay in Paris
Barcelona, Spain, 1992
This was the games where the Men’s USA basketball “Dream Team” considered one of the best teams of all time in any sport – made history on the courts with Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. But before Jordan and teammates clutched their gold medals, Barcelona readied for the competition by putting building plans into high gear, much of which you can still enjoy today. For example, the Estadi Olímpic (pictured right) – a grand stadium that appears like a Renaissance castle from the outside – was renovated for the occasion. It’s still in tip-top condition, where football games and concerts (like Beyonce and Coldplay) play today.
Standout moment: After South African’s admittance into the Olympics following a 30-year hiatus due to apartheid policies, South African runner Elana Meyer and Ethiopian runner Derartu Tulu ran a moving victory lap, hand-in-hand, following the women’s 10,000 meter race.
Where to stay in Barcelona
Los Angeles, California, 1984
Enhancing the city’s existing structures (rather than building from the ground up), the venues for the Los Angeles Games will go down as some of the most unique in history. As one of the first host cities to not be funded by the government, organizers had to look close to home for help, getting local designers and artists to spruce up the spaces, and corporate sponsors to foot some of the bill. What resulted was an incredibly profitable event for the city, generating money which went to supporting L.A.’s youth in sports. The epicenter of action was Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which is now home to the USC Trojans and L.A. Raiders football teams.
Standout moment: The “Prince of Gymnasts” Li Ning, who you might remember from the 2008 games, earned his nickname by winning six medals for the People’s Republic of China (in their first ever Games). We’re also giving an honorable mention to Lionel Richie’s closing ceremony performance, where crowds were treated to a 9-minute version of his classic 80’s hit, All Night Long.
Where to stay in Los Angeles