The history of the world’s biggest sporting event dates back to the year 1894, when Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s dream to revive the ancient Olympic Games in a modern form was realised in Paris. Held every four years, the Games first only staged the summer event. However, some of the early host cities like London 1908 and Antwerp 1920 included activities such as figure skating and ice hockey in their programmes.
Following the success of a winter sports week held in Chamonix, France, in 1924, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided in 1925 to retroactively recognise this event as the first separate Winter Olympic Games. At the time, the both were held the same year. In order to maximise the profile of the event and its television revenue, the Summer and Winter Olympic Games got from 1992 on scheduled at two-year intervals.
The Winter Olympics differ in several points from their aestival counterpart: they are usually staged on a smaller scale and take place in fragile landscapes. Until the 1952 Oslo Games, they were held in relatively few populated areas (often counting less than 13,000 residents) and attracted a small amount of people. Though like the Summer Games, the hibernal competition has over the years increased in size. From the 1960s, they were mostly assigned to centres surpassing a population of 100,000 people and were largely considered as a tool of regional development. So, the 1972 Sapporo Olympic Winter Games were seen by the Japanese government as an economic opportunity to vitalise the countries’ northern island of Hokkaido. As a matter of fact, less than 5% of the Games’ budget was invested in sports facilities, the rest finding its interest in the development of urban infrastructure, notably transportation.
The Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games took place from 7th to 22nd February and resembled 2,167 athletes coming from 72 countries. The Winter Paralympic Games, for the first time held outside Europe, took place from 5th to 14th March and attracted 571 athletes from 32 nations. As that years’ winter was particularly warm, officials had feared a snowless Olympics leading to the creation of contingency plans, which included laying tatami mats across the melting cross-country course to shade it from the sun. However, the concerns were causeless, as two weeks before the opening ceremony a storm moved across the Sea of Japan and covered the region with a decent amount of snow.
The Nagano 1998 Games played an important role in the development of the region: almost all of the 15 sports venues were new built, and the event was seized as an occasion to undertake major projects such as road development, facilities’ construction and the implementation of a new bullet train line in-between Tōkyō and Nagano that was inaugurated on 1st October 1997, roughly 4 months before the opening ceremony. The direct sports-related cost of the Nagano Games was around USD 2.2 billion and therefore ran over budget by 56%. The indirect cost, rather difficult to estimate, added an important sum.
Although centred in Nagano City, the Games spread over a wide area, notably the mountain communities of Hakuba, Karuizawa, Nozawa Onsen and Shiga Kogen. The city itself counts 5 venues, including the Minami-Nagano Sports Park where the opening and closing ceremonies were held. The Olympic Village, new built, housed around 3,000 people, mostly athletes and officials. After the event, it was transformed into upper middle-class housing, nowadays still in good condition. Right next to a train station, it is easily accessible and rather a convenient place to live in. A Satellite Olympic Village, located in the Karuizawa Skate Center Hotel, hosted an additional 120 people for the Curling events.
Most of the facilities that are located in the city’s centre were reconverted after the Games. So, the Minami-Nagano Stadium and the White Ring nowadays host different sporting events and competitions, such as baseball and basketball matches, and the second one mentioned above has also become a multipurpose municipal sports gymnasium. The Aqua Wing, which originally served to host the secondary ice hockey matches, got reshaped into a year-round indoor swimming centre, containing a small gym and various training rooms. It is currently in good condition, well frequented, and seems appreciated by Nagano’s citizens. The Spiral, however, located at a 20-minutes car ride from Nagano City and difficult to access by public transportation, is a counterexample. Used for the bobsleigh and luge competitions, it was supposed to become a training site and host competitions in winter, and serve as a leisure facility in summer. Yet, its maintain is pricy and the venue is progressively degenerating. The M-Wave, which was Japan’s first indoor rink with a 400-meter standard double track, staged the speed skating competitions. Today, it offers Nagano’s citizens a big public ice skating rink from autumn to spring, and transforms into a multipurpose arena in the summer months. This venue is also Japan’s national training centre for figure skating. Likewise, the Big Hat, during the Games the primary ice hockey venue, today serves as a big event arena.
Nagano seems to be a good example for a partially successful Olympic legacy; whereas some facilities have (thanks to the sufficient maintain by the city) become well-used and appreciated locations, others visibly lose popularity and little by little fall apart. It is to say, that in the 20 years which have passed since the Olympics, Nagano has established and kept the position as a popular winter sports destination.
This article is notably based on my recent field trip to Nagano. Due to their geographical dispersion (and the lack of time), it was not possible to visit the entity of the Olympic legacy. Nevertheless, I wish to express my sincere gratitude for having been incredibly well shown around within short time.