Since Baron Pierre de Coubertin revived the modern Olympic Games in 1896, the United States has hosted the Games eight times in six different cities and towns.
With the Olympic and Paralympic Games expected to be hosted in Los Angeles in 2028, here’s a look at how these six cities and towns have embraced the Olympic legacy, with many of the venues still in use.
St. Louis: 1904 Olympic Games
Which U.S. city hosted the first Olympic Games?
Most people have to think before answering that question. The St. Louis Sports Commission would like to change this — because St. Louis is “the birthplace of the Olympics in America,” says their website.
The 1904 Olympiad in St. Louis was not a traditional Games as we know it. Competitions were held over four-and-a-half months — from July 1 to November 23 — in conjunction with the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, or the St. Louis World’s Fair. But the event was mostly an American affair. Of the 650-or-so athletes who participated, most were from the U.S. They competed in 94 events in 16 sports and won the first-ever Olympic gold medals (prior to 1904, Olympic champions were awarded silver medals).
The Olympic competitions in 1904 were held in five sports venues. Remarkably, all but one remain, although their Olympic legacy has been forgotten. The 1904 Games predated many of the Olympic symbols; the Olympic rings are not found anywhere in St. Louis.
Since it was founded in 1989, the St. Louis Sports Commission has, as part of its mission, promoted St. Louis’ Olympic legacy. In 2010, the commission started the St. Louis Olympic Legacy project, with the first goal is to identify the actual sites of the 1904 Games and tell the story of what happened at each.
St. Louis’ Forest Park — five miles west of the city’s Gateway Arch — was the site of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The park hosted diving, swimming and water polo in a temporary pool, also shared by the agricultural exhibitions (cattle wandered into the pool during the water polo competitions, and sadly, a year later, five water polo players died of typhus). The 1,371-acre park (500 acres larger than New York’s Central Park) is now home to museums, the St. Louis Zoo, a manmade waterfall, extensive natural areas, restaurants and a World’s Fair pavilion built in 1909 with proceeds from the Exposition.
Just west of Forest Park, Francis Field, with a third-of-a-mile-long track, hosted the track and field events. The Washington University in St. Louis’s stadium was built in 1902 and became home to the university’s football team after the 1904 Games. A registered historic landmark, Francis Field’s track continued to host competitions through the 1980s. It has since been renovated but is still an integral part of the university’s athletic department. An ornamental wrought-iron gate on the east end of the field was built after the World’s Fair to commemorate the 1904 Olympic Games.
Near the field, Francis Gymnasium was torn down to make way for a new athletic complex at the university that opened in October 2016. However, the façade remains and serves as the new complex’s entrance.
Glen Echo Country Club hosted the golf tournament in 1904 — the last Olympic golf championship held until the 2016 Rio Games. Built by local businessman Wilson P. Hunt in 1901, Glen Echo was the first golf course constructed west of the Mississippi River. It remains open today, with Hunt’s mansion still serving as the clubhouse.
Creve Coeur Lake hosted the 1904 Olympic rowing events and today is home to rowing clubs.
In addition to commemorating these venues, the St. Louis Olympic Legacy project aims to create a celebratory plaza and gathering place, like Atlanta’s Centennial Park or Los Angeles’ Memorial Coliseum. The Sports Commission recently joined the World Union of Olympic Cities, which is encouraging cities to embrace their Olympic legacies.
The Commission has also brought Olympic trials to the city as another way to commemorate St. Louis’ Olympic past. Most recently, the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials for Men’s Gymnastics were held in St. Louis.
Lake Placid: 1932, 1980 Olympic Winter Games
What do Lake Placid, New York, and your local town library have in common? Both were significantly impacted by the Dewey family.
Thanks to the lobbying efforts of Godfrey Dewey — son of Melvil Dewey, father of library’s Dewey Decimal System — the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1932 Olympic Winter Games to Lake Placid. Until then, the small resort town in upstate New York was known mostly by eastern city dwellers looking to escape the heat in summer and, in winter, to learn how to ski.
To host a major international event in a town of around 3,000 people (more than there are today), Lake Placid needed a stadium, ice arena, bob run, ski jump, and cross-country skiing trails. In the grip of the Great Depression, the New York State legislature stepped in and helped fund construction. The stadium, used for the Opening and Closing Ceremony and speedskating, was built right in the village, in front of Lake Placid’s high school.
In 1980, when the Winter Games returned to this lovely Adirondack village — one of three cities to have hosted the Olympic Winter Games twice — most of these same venues were used, although rebuilt. Speedskating remained on the ice in front of the high school, and the old ice arena was expanded.
On this rink, Lake Placid’s Olympic legacy was burnished when, in the semifinal of men’s hockey, a group of American college kids beat the heavily favored Soviet team, 4-3, in a game now known as the “Miracle on Ice.”
The Herb Brooks Arena still stands (renamed after the iconic hockey coach after his death in 2003) and is used every winter for hockey tournaments and figure skating competitions, as is the 1932 rink, the indoor ice arena where American figure skater Maribel Vinson won bronze behind Sonja Henie’s gold.
In front of the Olympic Center and the town high school, tourists and townspeople can still skate on the speedskating oval, where John Shea and Eric Heiden won multiple gold medals 48 years apart. In fact, all the competition venues used for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games are still in use — operated and promoted by the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA).
Since 1982, Lake Placid has hosted over 450 international competitions, including world championships and world cups. Today, more than 2 million people visit the town each year.
Los Angeles: 1932, 1984 Olympic Games
The Lake Placid organizers were not the only Olympic committee struggling through the Depression in the early 1930s. In Los Angeles, the organizing committee pulled off the Games during tough financial times by making use of existing structures for the 15 venues.
One of those venues has become a symbol of the Los Angeles Olympiads: The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, constructed in 1923, and site of the multi-medal-winning performances of Babe Didrikson in 1932 and Carl Lewis in 1984. For the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games, this iconic stadium will host the Opening and Closing Ceremony, plus the track and field events, for the third time.
For the 1932 Games, the organizing committee only had to build swimming and rowing venues. A temporary swimming stadium was constructed adjacent to the Coliseum, later made permanent. It was restored and reopened in 2004 and is still used as a public swimming pool. A lagoon was dredged for rowing. And the Olympic Village — for the men — was comprised of around 550 temporary bungalows that were sold off after the Games. The women were housed in the Chapman Park Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. The luxurious hotel was torn down in the 1960s.
After Los Angeles was awarded the 1984 Games, the organizing committee also used mostly existing venues, including the Coliseum and Rose Bowl (home to soccer this time, not track cycling). Many were (and still are) facilities at Los Angeles’ many colleges and universities.
It was the first Games held without government financing, and again, the organizing committee relied on existing structures, with corporate sponsors stepping in to help fund two new venues (of 31 total): The Olympic Velodrome and Olympic Swim Stadium. The velodrome was built at the California State University, Dominguez Hills campus and was demolished in 2003. The swimming stadium is still used by the University of Southern California Trojans. It was rebuilt in 2013 and reopened in 2014 as the Uytengsu Aquatics Center.
The most financially successful Games of the modern Olympic era, the Los Angeles 1984 Games turned a profit of $223 million, part of which was used to start the LA84 Foundation. The nonprofit’s mission is to support youth sports programs, and it has invested over $230 million in Southern California communities since 1985, impacting more than 3 million youth in eight Southern California counties. Part of those funds have been used to help build more than 100 sports facilities in Southern California, including refurbishing the 1932 swimming stadium.
Additionally, the organization’s digital library — a trove for Olympic historians — has had over 16 million downloads.
For the 2028 Olympic Games, LA 2028 plans to continue supporting youth sports programs in Los Angeles. And the organizing committee will not build any new permanent venues. The Opening and Closing Ceremony will take place in two different venues, starting at the Coliseum, with the torch then carried to the new Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park. The new stadium is slated to open in 2020 and will serve as home to two NFL teams: the LA Rams and Chargers. It will host Super Bowl LVI in 2022. At the 2028 Games, the stadium will also host the men’s soccer final and archery.
Other well-known LA venues on the 2028 program include the Staples Center for basketball, the Rose Bowl, where the women’s soccer final will be contested (as it was during the 1999 FIFA World Cup, where the U.S. women won in front of the largest crowd ever to attend a women’s sports event). Swimming will be held in a temporary aquatics center at Dedeaux Field, USC’s baseball stadium.
Squaw Valley: 1960 Olympic Winter Games
Mail a letter to Squaw Valley, California — zip code 93675 — and the epistle will end up in a central California town just east of Fresno.
It’s a reminder that Squaw Valley, the ski resort that hosted the 1960 Winter Games, is in the aptly named town of Olympic Valley — zip 96146.
The Tower of Nations, topped by the Olympic rings, was moved to the valley’s entrance and paired with a replica tower to form a gateway to Squaw Valley. And a few of the buildings still stand, including the Olympic Village Lodge where the athletes dined (it’s a multi-use conference space now). At the top of the tramway, there’s a small Olympic museum in High Camp.
Not much else from the 1960 Olympic Winter Games remains, except the iconic mountain itself, where Americans Penny Pitou and Betsy Snite swept the silver medals in the women’s slalom, giant slalom and downhill. In March 2017, women’s FIS World Cup slalom and giant slalom races were held on Red Dog, the same trail where the slalom and giant slalom races were held in 1960. But the Blyth Memorial Ice Arena is long gone, as are other outdoor rinks and the speedskating oval, which was built as a temporary venue. The ski jumps are still visible but no longer used. And Squaw Valley organizers also did not build a bobsled run.
The Olympic legacy remains in the people who stayed in Olympic Valley after the Games — and those who moved there because of that legacy. Olympic gold medalists Julia Mancuso and Jonny Moseley grew up on Squaw Valley’s slopes, as did world championship medalists Tamara McKinney and Travis Ganong. And many have received their due. Just look at the trail names: Julia’s Gold, Moseley’s and Tamara’s, a black diamond bowl off the Olympic Lady chairlift.
Atlanta: 1996 Olympic Games
Which U.S. city was the first to host an Olympic Summer Games that was not boycotted or where athlete attendance was not affected by the Great Depression?
Answer: Atlanta. Athletes from 197 countries competed at the 1996 Olympic Games (compared to 140 countries in LA at the 1984 Games and 37 countries competing in 1932).
And American athletes put on a show. They won 101 medals, including 44 golds — almost 60 percent more than second place Russia. Amy Van Dyken led the U.S. with four gold medals in swimming — the first woman to win this many gold medals at one Olympic Games. And Carl Lewis won the long jump, becoming the third person in Olympic history to win the same event four times. It was Lewis’ ninth and final Olympic gold medal.
And the crowd responded. During the men’s high jump, Charles Austin — who a few years prior had been told his athletic career was over due to a knee injury — tried to set a new world record.
“The crowd was going ballistic, trying to get him over [the bar]!” wrote one fan in her journal. “All the other events would stop for his world record attempt.”
Austin won the gold medal, set an Olympic record, but missed setting a world record.
Like LA, the Atlanta Games were staged in many existing venues, including the Georgia Dome, Fulton Stadium, and the Omni Coliseum, the latter two demolished in 1997 and the Dome slated for demolition later this year. Each has been replaced by more modern stadiums.
The Olympic Village became dorms for Georgia Tech, and the open-air aquatic center, slated to cost $25 million and paid for privately, was taken over by Georgia Tech after the Games and enclosed. The pool is known as one of the fastest in the world. And the 2016 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team trained there prior to Rio.
Georgia International Horse Park, constructed for the Games, still hosts horse shows. And the Wolf Creek Shooting Complex is now the Tom Lowe Trap & Skeet Range.
Olympic Stadium, the 85,000-seat venue which was funded privately and hosted the Opening and Closing Ceremony, plus track and field events, became Turner Field in 1997. For almost 20 years, it was home to the Atlanta Braves MLB franchise. In April 2017, the Braves moved to a new ballpark north of the city, and Georgia State University transformed Turner Field into a football stadium.
The Stone Mountain Tennis Center is one of the few black spots in America’s Olympic legacy. Built in a corner of Stone Mountain Park east of Atlanta, Andre Agassi and Lindsay Davenport won gold medals there in 1996. But the tennis center was unsustainable, holding a few tournaments after the Games. But they lost money, and the 15-court facility closed and began to decay. In May 2017, the Gwinnett County board of supervisors voted to demolish the center.
With many of the former Olympic venues either returned to their previous use (or another use) or demolished, the city has lost some of its “Olympic” feel. Except at Centennial Olympic Park.
Constructed downtown in a warehouse area, the park was a centerpiece of the Games — a town square where fans could gather and listen to concerts. It was built in part with contributions from a commemorative brick program. For $35 a patron could have a brick engraved with up to two lines. Approximately 500,000 bricks sold and provided the basis for the park design, forming Centennial Plaza as well as wide pathways in the park.
Centennial Park was also the location of the Atlanta Games’ saddest chapter, when a bomb detonated, killing two people and injuring more than 100.
Today, on hot summer days, kids run through the Fountain of Rings, water spouts in the shape of the Olympic rings — one of the few places in the city to still display the rings. And the park is ringed with other attractions, such as the Atlanta Aquarium that opened in 2005, CNN’s headquarters, the World of Coca-Cola, and the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Salt Lake City: 2002 Olympic Winter Games
Utah’s license plates promise “The Greatest Snow on Earth.”
And the already-existing Snow Basin, Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort held the alpine skiing, freestyle skiing and snowboarding events for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City without much modification. These resorts had held international ski and snowboard events for years leading up to the Games. On that great snow.
But snow is not the only cold surface needed to host a successful Olympic Winter Games. To bring the Games to Salt Lake City, the region needed ice.
So in November 1989, Utahans passed the Olympic referendum, which would loan a fraction of the state sales tax over the next decade to fund facilities needed to bring the Olympic Winter Games to Salt Lake City — with profit from the Games repaying the loan.
With this money, construction began on the Utah Olympic Park, site of the ski jumps and bobsled/luge track, in the early 1990s in Park City. The speedskating Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah, followed. And in 1999, Soldier Hollow, a cross-country, biathlon and Nordic combined venue an hour east of Salt Lake City, was built.
At these three venues alone, American athletes won 16 medals in 2002, including Apolo Anton Ohno claiming his first Olympic gold medal, and Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers taking gold in the women’s bobsled Olympic debut.
The Salt Lake City Games turned a profit, which repaid the taxpayer loan and set up an $85 million endowment for the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation to maintain the facilities.
Today, the three purpose-built Olympic venues still host international-caliber events and serve as important training facilities for American athletes. The bobsled and luge world cup tours make regular stops at the Utah Olympic Park track. The Olympic Oval serves as a home for many of the country's top speedskaters, and it hosts regular national and international competitions. And in 2017, the FIS Nordic Junior World Ski Championships were held at Soldier Hollow, the first time junior worlds were held in the U.S. in 31 years. Soldier Hollow also has paved roller skiing trails where U.S. athletes train in the warm months.
These three venues are also open to the public. In the summer at Olympic Park, tourists can ride down the bobsled run, do a ropes course, fly on a zip line and take a frightening (exhilarating?) trip in an inner tube down the landing hill of a ski jump. In winter, cross-country skiers can purchase a pass and ski on Soldier Hollow’s trails. And the Olympic Oval is open for public skating, curling and even birthday parties.
Utah’s ski resorts also host regular freestyle and freestyle skiing world cups and national competitions.
This coming winter, Salt Lake City’s Olympic facilities will host several 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials events, including ski jumping and Nordic combined, and short track speedskating. A freestyle aerials and moguls world cup, which will help determine the team going to PyeongChang, comes to Deer Valley in January.
And “the greatest snow on earth” is always there for debate.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.