Skip to main content

Ten Iconic Olympic Venues Worth a Closer Look


The 2020 Summer Olympics have been postponed until next year — yet one more thing Covid-19 has ruined. So to hold us over until the world comes together for the classic summer spectacle, here’s a roundup of the most stunning Olympic stadiums of games gone by. 

Greece

Aerial-motion / Shutterstock.com

We have to start at the home of the original games. Although it wasn’t built with the Olympics in mind, the Olympic Stadium of Athens did play host to the games in 2004. Erected between 1980 and 1982 the stadium was named for Spyros Louis, the first modern gold medalist in the marathon. What makes this venue so special is the roof, which is defined by two giant arches that flank the stadium. Created for the 2004 games, the new roof and its arches were designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. 

China

SIHASAKPRACHUM / Shutterstock.com

We can’t have a list of impressive Olympic stadiums without mentioning Beijing. Everything about the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Games had the world sitting in stunned silence. From the impressively choreographed show to the seemingly endless fireworks display, these games felt different – China was having its debutante ball and letting us know it is officially a power player in the world. The design for the Beijing National Stadium was just as jaw-dropping. A twisting nest of bent mental, it’s a structure that was meant to be viewed at night (when the opening ceremonies took place). Lit from within it feels like a fantastical playground that holds something truly special within. Twelve years later and China has indeed become a game changer in the world, forcing other countries to step up their Olympic stadium design game.

England

e X p o s e / Shutterstock.com

When a “starchitect” agrees to design an Olympic games venue, you know it’s going to be a spectacular space. Such is the case for the Aquatics Centre created by world-renowned queen of architecture Zaha Hadid. Built for the 2012 London games, the center housed all of the water games — from swimming competitions to water polo. All took place under a dramatically undulating roof — a signature Hadid look and one only she could pull off.

Germany

inavanhateren/Shutterstock

Who would have thought playing with soap bubbles and string would result in an Olympics-worthy roof? That’s just how engineer Frei Otto studied tensile strength and was able to come up with the design for the Olympiastadion in Munich. Built to be the main venue for the 1972 Olympic games, the stadium is surrounded by a delicately suspended roof of acrylic glass and steel cables. There was a lot of pressure on the architects for these Olympic games — they were the first to be held in post-Nazi Germany. The gentle design of the tent-like canopy was meant to symbolize a peaceful, optimistic Germany and be a reflection of the Games’ motto for that year: “The Cheerful Games.”

Canada

Olympic Stadium Montreal
R.M. Nunes / Shutterstock.com

Leave it to Canada to create one of the more bizarre venues for the Olympics. Olympic Stadium Montreal holds a strange record — the attached Montreal Tower is the tallest inclined tower in the world with a lean of 45 degrees. Built for the 1976 summer games, the stadium has the largest seating capacity in the country. Not well loved by the people of Montreal for the exorbitant cost and constant maintenance issues, the “Big Owe” as it is referred to, has not been in much use since the Expos left for Washington in 2004. Despite all of this, it is still considered a groundbreaking piece of architecture and worthy of being among the other iconic venues on the list.

Sweden

Stockholm Olympic Stadium
Thorir Ingvarsson / Shutterstock.com

Nothing can compare to a classic and Stockholm Olympic Stadium is just that — a classically designed stadium that has stood the test of time. Built to host the 1912 Olympics, this is the oldest venue on the list. There’s something to be said for going back to the roots of architecture. The design of Stockholm Olympic Stadium speaks to the early architects of ancient Greece. It’s both a nod to the original Olympics and a statement of the time — the early 20th century was the revivalist period when most architects were reimagining ancient Roman and Greek building techniques. So even though this stadium is a bit more basic, it has a staying power many of the others lack.

Australia

Regien Paassen/Shutterstock

The start of the new millennium brought with it hope for a brighter future, putting a lot of pressure on Australia when Sydney was selected to host the 2000 Games. To kick off the new decade, century, and millennium, Stadium Australia was created. At the time it was the largest Olympic Stadium ever built. The striking roofline was a spectacular backdrop for the opening ceremonies. While the central field was open-air, the stadium seats were covered by a gently swooping form. Perhaps the most dramatic element was the bleacher-inspired seats rising up from either end, making it appear the center of the roof had been peeled back to expose the field below. Sadly the stadium has since been renovated to better suit sports such as Australian football and cricket, but that doesn’t take away from that impressive first glimpse the world got when the ceremonies kicked off in September, 2000. 

Mexico

Estadio Olímpico Universitario
Ulrike Stein/Shutterstock

Estadio Olímpico Universitario in Mexico City is certainly the most architecturally simple venue, especially in comparison to some of the more dramatic designs. At first glance, it might be hard to see why such an understated stadium would make the list. But no other venue has the sentimental story behind it like Estadio Olímpico Universitario. Set to be the pinnacle work of his career, artist Diego Rivera got to work covering the exterior of the stadium in an elaborate mural that would represent Mexican culture, family, and the symbolic peace of the Olympics. Sadly, Rivera passed away before he could finish his work for the 1968 games. Rather than complete the piece, Mexico City chose to leave it unfinished, a beautiful tribute to the artist. 

United States

oneinchpunch/Shutterstock

Speaking of understated architecture, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum may not look like anything special at first glance. It was never intended to host an Olympics, so the designers had other ideas in mind when coming up with the concept for the stadium. Built to be a civic venue and memorial to World War I veterans, the Memorial Coliseum had to undergo a renovation just 7 years after its completion when it was announced LA would host the 1932 Olympics. So what makes this particular venue so iconic? Look closer at the architecture and you’ll see this is one of the very few remaining Art Moderne buildings in the country. Art Deco’s final bow, Art Moderne was unique to Southern California where Spanish Mission, Art Deco, and Egyptian influences were brought together in a surprisingly cohesive look. And once LA hosts the 2028 Olympics, Memorial Coliseum will be the first ever venue to be home to three different games – 1932 and 1984 being the first two. 

Japan

Yoyogi National Gymnasium
Sira Anamwong/Shutterstock

Talk about a feat of engineering, the Yoyogi National Gymnasium built for the 1964 games, has a suspended roof that seems to defy the laws of physics. Created at a time when most architectural calculations had to be done by hand, the swooping roofline was revolutionary when it was proposed. The result is a space so impressive, it’s still being used to this day and will be host to the handball competition when the Games (finally) take place in 2021.

Kelsey Machado
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kelsey is a professional interior designer with over a decade of experience in the design field. With a passion for…
What is Biathlon at the Winter Olympics?
Winter olympics biathlon arena.

The Winter Olympics may have fewer sports than the Summer Olympics, but there are some fascinating events all the same. The biathlon is among the most-watched events in the Winter Olympics and draws hundreds of millions of television viewers. Despite its popularity, many people are relatively unfamiliar with this rather unique sport.
Want to be an expert at your Winter Olympics viewing party? Keep reading for everything you need to know about the sport of biathlon and this famed Winter Olympics event.

What is the Biathlon?

Read more
Why This Olympic Gold Medalist Shot Putter Is Still Approaching His Peak
USA's Ryan Crouser competes in the men's shot put final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic stadium in Tokyo on August 5, 2021.

USA's Ryan Crouser competes in the men's shot put final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic stadium in Tokyo on August 5, 2021. Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images

On January 24, Larry Eder, a 38-year veteran journalist for track and field, was on his couch at his home in Wisconsin when he watched the indoor shot put world record broken — or was it? The ESPN announcers, only a few minutes into the broadcast, were frantically flipping through notes, unsure, and the rubber-covered 16-pound ball lay there on the turf like a mushroom, cameras zoomed in on as if it could offer a hint. “If you break the record and no one can measure it, did you really break it?” Eder asks philosophically.

Read more
Contest Veteran Ryan Sheckler Explains Olympic Skateboarding
olympic skateboarding guide ryan sheckler

“I knew it had the potential, with the type of contests that was going on," says Ryan Sheckler. And he should know: Shecks, as he's called by action sports broadcasters around the world, has not a little amount of experience in the field, competing in skateboarding contests since the age of six. That means that he's been doing it since 1995, the same year the X Games threw its inaugural contest on ESPN. Next came the Dew Tour, in 2008, and then Street League Skateboarding, the brainchild of pro skater and reality TV star Rob Dyrdek, in 2010. With these series drawing millions of viewers, there was no shortage of mainstream exposure. But the final step was always the Olympics, and this summer, in Tokyo, the sport of skateboarding will finally make its Games debut, just as Sheckler predicted.

"Skateboarding has that cool factor," Sheckler, now 31, tells The Manual. "I think that the Olympics realize that there are millions of kids skateboarding, and it is a sport. I knew it was just a matter of time."

Read more