Condoms to Condos: What Becomes of an Olympic Village Once the Games Are Over?

published Feb 20, 2018
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Residents of London’s East Village development enjoy a tennis match outdoors. (Image credit: East Village)

This week, the Olympic village in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is a bustling community where thousands of the world’s best athletes eat, sleep, and, um, find a way to use more than three dozen condoms apiece. But what happens to an Olympic village once the Games leave town?

In Pyeongchang, the Olympic village will first host another round of athletes for the Paralympic Games before being turned into condos — all of which have already sold, according to CityLab. But not every Olympic structure has such a promising future: Pyeongchang’s brand-new, 35,000-seat stadium — a capacity that rivals the small city’s entire population – was intentionally designed to be demolished after the Paralympic Games (rather than allow it to fade into ruin, like the haunting remnants of the Sarajevo or Athens Games).

Housing is a little more timeless and practical than, say, a giant stadium or ski jump, but past Olympic villages have been reincarnated in many different forms and with varying success, from college dorms to condos — and even a prison.

Some iterations of the Games have spawned not just Olympic villages but entirely new urban neighborhoods. In advance of the 1992 Summer Olympics, Barcelona transformed an industrial swath of downtown waterfront into la Vila Olímpica del Poblenou; the athletic housing turned into apartments and condos in what is now a residential area with a marina and beach.

London’s winning bid for the 2012 Summer Games helped spur the development of East Village, a new neighborhood built atop contaminated wasteland in London’s East End. About half of the 2,818 athletes’ residences of London’s Olympic Village were set aside for affordable housing, though additional market-rate development has occurred in the area.

Given their focus on housing and feeding thousands of active young adults, former Olympic villages can also make perfect college dorms after the athletes head home — or vice versa.

Atlanta’s 1996 Olympic village now houses Georgia Tech students, and Salt Lake City’s 2002 athlete’s village was easily converted into dorms for the University of Utah. Meanwhile, athletes displaced students from their residence halls at the University of Calgary during the 1988 Winter Games.

Not every former Olympic village lives on in glory. Some early athletes’ villages were simply dismantled after the Games, or, as in the case of Berlin’s 1936 Olympic village, destroyed by a far more terrifying and deadly global competition. Others have simply fallen into disrepair.

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London’s winning bid for the 2012 Summer Games helped spur the development of East Village, a new neighborhood built atop contaminated wasteland in London’s East End. (Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

But perhaps the most peculiar story of an Olympic village’s afterlife is in Upstate New York.

While today’s Olympic athletes enjoy relatively comfortable and attractive lodging, competitors in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., were actually housed in a prison.

That’s right, the American hockey heroes who brought us the Miracle on Ice spent the night in what would become the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Ray Brook. And this isn’t a case of a residential complex being repurposed later on — it was intentionally built as a prison from the get-go, with government funding, and was ready for inmates just months after the 1980 Winter Olympics ended.

It makes a bit more sense when you remember that the 1972 Summer Games in Munich were marred by a terrorist attack where Israeli athletes were taken hostage from the Olympic village and killed. Staying offsite in a very well fortified location probably held a certain appeal in the aftermath of the Munich massacre.

So if you want to stalk the same hallways your Olympic heroes once roamed, you can buy a condo in East London, rent an Airbnb in Barcelona, enroll at the University of Utah… or commit a pretty serious felony in the New York area.