In Olympic Footsteps: An International Tour

History meets athletic legend in cities throughout the globe, from Athens to Nagano.
By Colleen Kaleda
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Salt Lake's Olympic torch may be burning brightly, but the other 42 former sites all over the world sit quietly, awash in the glory of Olympic remembrance. From Athens to Nagano, Berlin to Barcelona, you can still walk in the footsteps of the Olympians—if you know where to find their tracks.

Athens, Greece
It was 776 B.C. when that first foot race was held, in Olympia, about 75 miles from Athens in the Peloponnese. Dedicated to Zeus, the Olympic festival was a religious rite, held every four years. The sacrifices have gone, but the athletic competitions and crowning of winners are our remainders of that ancient time.
The Games quickly became the symbol of Panhellenic unity, causing warriors to lay down arms to compete. Today the Games symbolize unity and peace like no other international sporting event. And today's Olympia has as its hallmark the Temple of Zeus, the greatest among the city's temples.

When the competition was revived in 1896 after a long hiatus, Athens was chosen for the first modern Games. The city is already gearing up for 2004, when it will host the world's next Summer Olympics. A new sport has already been approved: water-skiing. Proponents of other popular, but out-of the-Olympic-mainstream sports—bowling, billiards, karate, and squash—are vying for the right to compete in Athens. Look out antiquity: the 21st Century Olympics has arrived.

Chamonix, France
Chamonix gained fame as the site of the first modern Winter Olympics in 1924. But its location is what makes it memorable, nestled in the French Alps at the end of the steepest train grade in France. Remnants of the town's Olympic days include the nearly 80-year-old Olympic stadium and its public skating rink inside. Even before the Olympics, Chamonix was synonymous with outdoor adventure and mountaineering, and home to some of the world's finest pioneer climbers. Jagged glacial talons grab the village from all sides, reaching within less than a kilometer of restaurants and cafes. Europe's highest peak, Mont Blanc, looms in the distance; meeker visitors can get close via gondola. But ski-lifts and telepheriques (cable cars) take the intrepid to the peak, and stay open in summer to speed outdoor enthusiasts up to explore alpine lakes, glaciers, and forest on mountain bike or foot.

Berlin, Germany
One of only a few fascist buildings remaining in Berlin, the old Olympic stadium from Germany's infamous Summer 1936 Games serves as an eerie reminder of one of history's darkest moments. But the building itself is a marvel of Neoclassicism, and massive sculptures dotting the stadium grounds add to the artistic appeal. The medal winners' names inscribed on the interior walls brings in historical overtones; a climb up the Glockenturm rewards history buffs with a peek at the tower's original Olympic bell. The Nazi symbols there are still visible—it was through this bell tower that Hitler made his regular morning stadium entrances. Rebuilt after World War II, the Glockenturm offers views of nearby Devil's Mountain, a manmade mini-mountain topped with a castle and—oddly—Berlin's very own public ski slopes.

Lillehammer, Norway
Where else but in Lillehammer can one take in Olympic-class mountain sports with a dose of midnight sun? A variety of outdoor activities—hiking, bicycling, winter sports—await visitors to Lillehammer, the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics. Don't miss Hakon Hall, the town's former Olympic ice hockey arena, and now site of one of the world's most advanced indoor mountaineering walls. Squash, handball, volleyball, and badminton are played inside when it's too chilly to watch daredevils on the ski-jumping tower, accessible via a chairlift. If your timing is right, catch some alpine acrobatics at the Kanthaugen Freestyle Facility. The town itself is worth the trip, with its Swiss-style village architecture. Take an enriched dose of up-country Norway in nearby Roros, the country's highest-altitude town. Northern Europe's largest open-air museum is here: the Sandvig Collection at Maihungen. Some 140 buildings make up this fascinating working alpine farm, complete with animals, workshops, and a 13th Century stave church.

Published: 12 Sep 2000 | Last Updated: 9 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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