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Why Yesterday’s Olympic Host Cities are Still as Good as Gold

1980: Lake Placid, New York

US Medal Count: (6) Gold + (4) Silver + (2) Bronze = (12) **3rd Place Overall

Why You’d Remember It: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!!” A group of college-aged US hockey players beat the best team in the world, the Soviets, and eventually won the Gold medal. During the heart of the Cold War and hosted by a US city, this was one of the biggest Olympic moments ever. This was also the first Olympics to use artificial snow for some events. There was much controversy surrounding the comfort of Olympic Village (it later turned into a prison) and unsold tickets.

130125144742-mike-eruzione-single-image-cutWhy You Should Visit: Lake Placid has done an admirable job with Olympic arena upkeep and related tourism. The still-operational Herb Brooks Arena (site of the “Miracle on Ice”) still hosts many youth and international ice events each year. On Whiteface Mountain, you can ski and snowboard the same trails the Olympians did, and also practice your jumps by landing on a massive air bag. Visit the Olympic Sports Complex to take a real bobsled ride! For non-Olympic related attractions, Lake Placid has much to offer. The Whiteface Golf Club is one of the most gorgeous courses in the area, and its partner in name, Whiteface Mountain offers skiing and snowboarding. If you can, hike up Mount Jo which has high peaks where you can see for miles. Explore the frozen waterfalls at High Falls Gorge, or take in a family-friendly show at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. With many fresh water rivers for fishing and lakes for canoeing, Lake Placid is an outdoorsman’s dream. Click here to see vacation rentals in the Lake Placid area.

1984: Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia)

US Medal Count: (4) Gold + (4) Silver + (0) Bronze = (8) **T-5th Place Overall

Why You’d Remember It: Bill Johnson became the first American to win a downhill event. The closing ceremonies were held indoors, the last time that would happen until 2010. The Olympic flag was raised upside down during the opening ceremony by mistake.

Why You Should Visit: Unfortunately, almost immediately after the Olympics the city of Sarajevo was under siege longer than any other city in the history of war (think about that). Author Win Goodbody says, “…in the time span of two Olympic cycles, the mountains and valleys where countries had competed for sporting glory became war zones. The bobsled run turned into an artillery position. The men’s downhill ski area was commandeered for a military base. Where medals had once been awarded below the ski jumps, podium steps were used for executions. Any search for Sarajevo’s Olympic past, it turned out, would also have to address the more recent Bosnian war.” The Olympic stadiums and event areas are not clearly marked, and it is difficult to navigate around. Now though, Sarajevo is an active city of 430,000 nestled in a valley. Though it could have been classified as “extremely war torn” in the early 90s, the city has recovered gracefully and is religiously diverse. These days crime is slim and the city has been named by many as a “top European place to visit”. Ready for an adventure?  Make sure to book your stay early.

1988: Calgary, Canada

US Medal Count: (2) Gold + (1) Silver + (3) Bronze = (6) **T-9th Place Overall

Why You’d Remember It: The weather was a major factor in this Games with temps reaching 63°F which ruined some events. Other events were delayed due to high winds. American Dan Jansen competed in speed skating events hours after his sister died of leukemia, and Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards from Britain competed so terribly in the ski jump that he became an instant celebrity. Canada failed to win a Gold medal on their home turf.

calgaryWhy You Should Visit: Calgary, like most Canadian cities, is a hybrid of outdoorsy grandeur and the buzzing energy of most urban locales. Party goers will find options abound in downtown Calgary for dinner and drinks. For the pro sports lover, you can see the Calgary Flames (ice hockey) and the Calgary Stampeders (football) playing throughout the year. For the fitness buff, Calgary features some of the longest river pathways in the world, perfect for running or bike riding. See the area’s history at the Glenbow Museum and shop ’til you drop on historic Stephen Avenue. There are music and art festivals happening throughout the year in beautiful Calgary, and the zoo and rodeo are second to none in Canada. No visit to Calgary is complete without a stop at WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park, the most visible legacy from the 1988 Games. Featuring ski, snowboard, ski jump, biathlon track, ice surfaces, and sliding tracks, this historic area has all any Olympic buff would want to try. This is a perfect atmosphere for the adrenaline junkie with bobsled and luge rides available. Canada Olympic Park also has summer activities like mountain biking and mini golf – it is a superb getaway for families. Want to visit Calgary? There are plenty of accommodations to choose from!

1992: Albertville, France

US Medal Count: (5) Gold + (4) Silver + (2) Bronze = (11) **6th Place Overall

Why You’d Remember It: Norwegian skiers won every male cross-country skiing race. Ski jumper Toni Nieminen, 16, became the youngest male gold medalist of a Winter Olympic event. Midori Ito was the first woman to land a triple axel in Olympic competition, though Tanya Harding (more on her later) was the first woman ever to land the jump.

Why You Should Visit: Founded in 1836, this mountainous region is beautiful and secluded (it is the Alpes, after all.) Hosting the Olympics put Albertville squarely on the map in 1992. The town center of Albertville is like something out of the Sound of Music, picturesque with cafes and boutiques, and above the town you see the mountain range behind you as if someone painted it there. The Olympic House, which is located in the old Palais de Justice, has an exhibition covering the 1992 Winter Olympic Games and is possible to visit the olympic park as well. In Conflans (a medieval village) there are numerous shops along with plenty of history at Chateau Rouge which houses nearly 2000 years of art. Click here to see vacation rentals in France.

1994: Lillehammer, Norway

US Medal Count: (6) Gold + (5) Silver + (2) Bronze = (13) **T-5th Place Overall

Why You’d Remember It: 
This was the first time the winter Games were staggered from the Summer Olympics, the first and only one to be held two years after the previous winter Games, and the last to be held in a small town. Six weeks before these Games, Tanya Harding’s bodyguard (paid off by her boyfriend) clubbed Nancy Kerrigan in the knee to prevent her from competing. Both women were selected for the team, with Kerrigan losing the gold medal to Oksana Biul, but impressively finishing second despite her injury.

Why You Should Visit: Lillehammer has done a top job up keeping their Olympic venues and using them as tourist attractions for locals and foreign travelers alike. Most get to Lillehammer by flying to Oslo, and then using a train or bus to Lillehammer. The Lysgårdsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena is now an annual attraction with a chairlift ride to the top or a trek up 954 steps. Visit the ski jump tower to gaze down at the K120 jumping hill and a gorgeous view of Lillehammer and Lake Mjøsa. The Olympic Bobsled and Luge track is still in service, and you can “compete” in all of the Olympic events for yourself (some age restrictions do apply.) For the most lively apres-ski atmosphere, head to Hafjell, Kvitfjell or Skeikampen. For the history buffs, visit the Norwegian Olympic Museum for exhibits on the 1994 Games and all Norwegian Olympians. You can even have your company host a corporate Olympic Games in Lillehammer as a team building exercise. How cool! Outside of the Olympic venues there are downhill and cross-country skiing options everywhere. Although most fun can be had during the winter, don’t rule out visiting in the summertime either as Lake Mjøsa provides an ideal backdrop for relaxation and fun activities. Cycling, hiking, safaris, extreme sports are all big draws during the hot summer months.  At Lilleputthammer Family Park (best for children younger than 10), the whole group can enjoy trains, cars, boats, a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster and more. Children will also love the climbing tower, the obstacle course, the bouncy pillow and the trampolines. Check out these lodging options in Lillehammer.

1998: Nagano, Japan

US Medal Count: (6) Gold + (3) Silver + (4) Bronze = (13) **6th Place Overall

Why You’d Remember It: Women’s Ice Hockey became an Olympic sport in 1998, and USA beat Canada for the Gold medal. Also making first time appearances as official sports were curling and snowboarding. Young star Tara Lipinski, 15, beat Michelle Kwan in women’s figure skating to become the youngest champion in an individual event in the history of the Winter Olympics.

Why You Should Visit: The Kids Ninja Village is a small theme park with ninja related attractions located at Mount Togakushi in Nagano City, the legendary home of the Togakure Ninja School. The village is set within a forest, featuring many obstacle courses and jungle gyms for visitors. Some activities cost extra, including blow darts, throwing stars, and two ninja mansions with labyrinths and trapdoors. Nagano’s Zenkoji Temple is one of the most popular temples in Japan. It was most recently rebuilt in the 18th century and stores the first Buddhist statue ever to be brought into Japan. The original statue is hidden, while a copy of it is shown to the public every six years for a few weeks. The next opportunity will be in 2015. The Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum stages rotating exhibitions of fine art with different themes. The M-Wave building (open only on weekends and holidays) features a small Olympic museum, and the Olympic Stadium area (which housed the opening and closing ceremonies) serves as a park with a gym and pool service. The White Ring speed skating venue now hosts numerous sporting events throughout the year, while the Big Hat hockey rink (complete with theater) is also still functional today. More so than many other entries on this list, Nagano offers a chance for you to take a culinary adventure. Nagano’s famous for soba (buckwheat noodles) and miso (fermented bean paste) For the really adventurous eater, try basashi (raw horse meat) andinago (locusts). Interested in visiting? You can stay in any of these rentals.

saltlake2002: Salt Lake City, Utah

US Medal Count: (10) Gold + (13) Silver + (11) Bronze = (34) **2nd Place Overall

Why You’d Remember It: This was a particularly emotional Games, being the first since the 9/11 attacks and hosted on US soil (the first time since Lake Placid in 1980). Women’s bobsled was entered into the Games for the first time. Extreme sports became a focal point with snowboarding, moguls, and aerials having a bigger impact. The Canadian men won hockey gold for the first time in 50 years. KISS performed together for the final time, live at the closing ceremonies. The 2002 Olympic bidding process was shrouded in scandal. After failing to win an Olympics four times, members of the IOC accepted bids from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and voted the Games in their favor. Several IOC members were banned and new rules were put in place. After the scandal broke, the SLOC hired Mitt Romney to fix the fractured organization and regain public trust. The US government also chipped in a billion dollars to help the Games continue on.

Why You Should Visit: Salt Lake City, nestled in the southwest of the USA, has a climate more suited towards the Mountain regions nearby and is a must-visit in all seasons. With four world-class ski resorts, Salt Lake City has become a travel hub for winter sports fans. At Olympic Park, you can ride the Comet Winter Bobsled or try the Extreme Zipline in the summer. Travelers can also take a lift up to the highest ski jump in the world (7310 ft), or even watch athletes in training practicing in the old Olympic venues. For the pro sports lover, catch a Utah Jazz game at Energy Solutions Arena or see the Salt Lake Bees minor league baseball team play at the Spring Mobile Ballpark. City Creek Center and The Gateway are the most popular shopping areas (indoor and outdoor) and visitors have been ogling animals at Hogle Zoo which has been around since 1931. The Salt Lake Public Library and the Performing Arts Center would be ideal spots for those who prefer indoor activities. The Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point may have the coolest attraction in Salt Lake: the world’s largest dinosaur exhibit, complete with 60 complete skeletal displays. There are amazing chalets to choose from in Salt Lake City.

2006: Turin, Italy

US Medal Count: (9) Gold + (9) Silver + (7) Bronze = (25) **2nd Place Overall

Why You’d Remember It: This game was a bit slow of highlights compared to many others on this list. Michelle Kwan dropped out of the Olympics before the Games, ending her spectacular run for USA in figure skating. American snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, with a Gold medal awaiting her, attempts one final trick near the finish line and falls, losing her gold. Bode Miller skied and partied with reckless abandon, and Shaun White became “The Flying Tomato” that we all know and love. With a population of more than 900,000, Turin became the largest city ever to host the Olympic Winter Games. Unfortunately general apathy towards the Games led to many venues being unfilled for many events.

Why You Should Visit: The fourth largest city in Italy is flanked by 11 miles of walkways and is the home of Fiat cars. Even with the large population, Turin is easy to navigate and very clean. Along rivers flanking the city is where most of the nightlife and “discos” are located. Mole Antonelliana is the landmark building of Turin and created in 1888 as a synagogue, it’s architecture has wowed locals and travelers alike. At the Olympic Park you can take figure skating lessons ($157 for 10 lessons) in the ice skating rink and have dinner at the arcade in Olympic Village. Hosting the Games injected life into the city and more tourism, shops, and eateries have come to roost in Turin. SFashion is known as the best pizza in Turin, and Kipling Restaurant keeps 50% of its menu non-Italian to experiment with more exotic dishes. Eataly, a bazaar of Slow Food dishes, offers handmade pasta, aromatic cheeses, prime beef and more. Taste gelato wherever and whenever you can, the Italian ice cream is unparalleled. History buffs should visit the Egyptian Museum, National Automobile Museum, or the National Museum of Cinema if time permits. Click here to see vacation rentals in the Turin area.

2010: Vancouver, Canada

US Medal Count: (9) Gold + (15) Silver + (13) Bronze = (37) **1st Place Overall

Why You’d Remember It: The event began under a cloud of sadness when a fatal crash on a practice run on the bobsled course killed Nodar Kumaritashvili from the Soviet republic of Georgia. Canada was the first host country to lead in gold medals. Canada also broke the record for total gold medals at any one Olympics, with 14. This contest became known as “The Glitch Games” when a number of things went wrong on the ice, the mountain, and during the opening ceremonies. The feud between Russian Evgeni Plushenko and American winner Evan Lysacek begins here, when Lysacek won narrowly over the disappointed Plushenko. More top moments from the 2010 Games can be found here.

Why You Should Visit: Although all of these previous hosts are gorgeous tableaus in their own rights, Vancouver may top them all. With Northern charm and mountains aplenty, this Canadian province offers the best of both worlds: urban environment and natural wonder. Whistler, along with Blackcomb, two of the most famous ski resorts in North America, are right nearby. They are not just winter destinations either, there are ample hiking and biking opportunities in the summertime. Rumor has it the 75 mile drive from Vancouver to Whistler allows you to view incredible scenery along the way. There are numerous festivals in both Whistler and Vancouver throughout the year: MusicFest Vancouver, Vancouver International Comedy & Film Festivals, Cornucopia, and the Telus World Ski & Snow Festival. For shopping, Robson Street is where you want to be, this is also where a lot of the Olympians and tourists hung out at night during the Games. For the kids, Granville Island Kids Market and Science World will keep them occupied and fascinated for hours. The Richmond Olympic Ice Skating Oval still does feature ice skating, but also gyms, table tennis, workout areas and more. Visitors can skeleton sled face first down the Olympic Bobsled track. For incredible views and a photo op, visit the Olympic Cauldron which is open the public 24/7. It is in the middle of the fountain and gently lit by blue and green lights at night. Click here to see vacation rentals in the Vancouver area.

2014: Sochi, Russia

US Medal Count: To Be Determined

Why You’d Remember It: To Be Determined

Why You Should Visit: The climate of this resort city is actually quite mild, with February averages expected to be around 50°F. Although their usage of the Olympic equipment post-Games remains to be seen, and safety concerns notwithstanding, Sochi is considered the “summer capital” of Russia. Celebrities, politicians, and other wealthy flock to Sochi during the summer months. What’s odd is the city is normally associated with hot weather, palms, and beaches – and yet won the rights to the 2014 Games. The lack of appropriate international infrastructure leads to less than 5% international tourism, but the Russians who visit do enjoy their time there. With many historical sites, parks, and hiking mountains, spending time outdoors is not an issue. Also the wildlife and safari industry is booming, with many tours available. US travelers understandably may withhold judgement on Sochi until after the Olympics, but hopefully a successful Games will put this city back on the tourist map. Click here to see vacation rentals in the Sochi area.

Photo Credits:
  • Eruzione – sportsillustrated.cnn.com
  • Calgary Ski Jump – liveincalgary.com
  • Salt Lake Logo – wikipedia.com