As London prepares to host the 2012 Olympics, there's been no shortage of stories on the condition of the buildings erected for the 2004 Games in Athens. The Olympic sports complex is rotting and rusting, the man-made lake set up to provide water to the slalom course is dry, and the stadiums built for table tennis and gymnastics are empty. The situation is easy to amplify in a negative way given the economic situation in Greece. Many blame the country's debt, or at least part of it, on a rush to build extravagant facilities for the Olympics. While some have pointed out that Greece's travel infrastructure was significantly upgraded because of the 2004 Games, Athens has mostly been cast in a negative light. Is that fair? How have other former Olympic stadiums fared? What exactly happens to host cities after the Olympics?
Faliro Olympic Complex, Athens. Photo: Courtesy of The Olympic City
Photographers Jon Pack and Gary Hustwit have set out to answer that last question. So far they have picked seven former host cities to visit so they can interview people and photograph anything and everything related to the Olympics. Their answer will take the form of a 200-page photo book, The Olympic City, due out in March 2013. The duo started a Kickstarter project so they can raise money to travel to seven more cities and finish the project. Those people that donate will get to help pick the last two cities that Pack and Hustwit visit. We emailed Pack to see what they've discovered so far.
Art Devlin's Olympic Motor Inn, Lake Placid, New York. Photo: Courtesy of The Olympic City
In the Kickstarter video, you mention that seeing the money spent on the Beijing Olympics in 2008 inquired you to wonder what happens to these cities. Why did you decide to turn that question into a huge project?
Well, I wasn’t sure at first if it would turn into a project at all. To be honest, I never had much interest in the Olympics. My wife, on the other hand, is a big fan and has been since she was little. She has really happy memories of writing to invite Brian Boitano to dinner in a fan letter when she was 11. (He never responded.) So leading up to the 2008 Olympics, I found myself paying more attention than I had to Games in the past. I was intrigued that so much of the coverage was about the money being spent and the venues being constructed for an event that would only last a few weeks. I kept wondering what would become of these buildings after the Games, so I went on a bit of a fact-finding mission and did some research. Then I rented a car and kept it local, mostly because of money and time constraints, and drove up to Lake Placid and Montreal.
In Lake Placid, I stayed at Art Devlin’s Olympic Motor Inn, a hotel opened by a former Olympic ski jumper. The hotel lobby was jam-packed with his trophies and awards. A handful of dusty shops on the village’s main street are filled with all sorts of memorabilia from the 1980 Games—the shops appear to be closed most of the time, but handwritten signs let interested folks know how to get ahold of the owners. The former Olympic Village where the athletes were housed is now a prison—well, it was a prison first, then a place to house the athletes, and then a prison again. Not only that, but the prisoners helped build the ski jumps used in the Games. So that trip really invigorated me, and definitely made me feel like this could be a project worth exploring.