Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Olympics worth the price tag? The Montreal Legacy

By Paula Newton, CNN
July 20, 2012 -- Updated 0238 GMT (1038 HKT)
  • The 1976 Montreal Olympics almost left the city bankrupt with its US$1.48 billion-price tag
  • But former IOC vice-president Dick Pound said the games were hailed as a sporting success
  • The city retained and invested in its sporting facilities long after the Olympics finished

Montreal, Canada (CNN) -- Montreal's Olympic Stadium is known as the "Big O," but for many of the city's taxpayers it is really the "Big Owe."

"It took us 30 years to pay it off and as a taxpayer I'm not too happy about it," said one Montreal resident, echoing the anger that many here still feel about the way the games were funded in 1976.

"It was not very well managed as a financial project. And we have a fabulous stadium, but I think it cost more than all the covered stadia in North America put together, " said Dick Pound, former International Olympic Committee vice-president and a prominent resident of the Canadian city.

However, Pound said calling the Montreal games of 1976 "the bankrupt Olympics" is a bad rap, and pointed out that the games actually made money. He said they paved the way for a new financial structure and the introduction of lucrative new television rights deals.

People still come up to him and remember how well the Montreal games were staged and, in the end, how exciting they were, he added.

"They were pretty magic. All Olympics are magic but we had Comaneci with her first '10' and we had the Spinks brothers and we had Sugar Ray Leonard," he said.

Olympic games transformed Barcelona
Olympic athletes arriving in London
From Tunisia uprising to London Olympics

"I mean we had some magnificent heroes of the modern Olympics."

But there is weariness in Montreal about being known for staging the Olympic games that almost bankrupted a city. The city's mayor at the time, Jean Drapeau, famously remarked that if the games end up having a deficit, men will have babies.

And it was in large part due to the Olympic Stadium construction that the statement seems so ridiculous now. The Olympic debt was nearly US$1.48 billion, and the stadium itself has been an engineering nightmare -- the retractable roof has struggled to worked properly over the years and almost forced the closure of the entire arena last year amid safety concerns.

But the city's current government insists Montreal has put that legacy behind it and the Olympic stadium is now a key attraction.

"Now it is paid, and it's profitable for Montreal to keep it," said Manon Barbe, the councillor in charge of sports and leisure for the city.

Barbe pointed out that the legacy of the games has created a sporting city that nurtures hundreds of elite athletes.

"Today Montreal has more than 1,000 elite athletics and more than 100 coaches. And if it's that high, it's not a coincidence. It is because we decided to keep most of our sporting facilities," said Barbe.

One of those facilities is the Claude Robillard Sporting Center, an impressive training facility for more than a dozen sports that nurtures athletes of all ages. During the 76' games, the center hosted handball and water polo and was a training center for athletics, swimming and field hockey.

Today, hundreds of aspiring athletes receive access to coaching and equipment, much of it subsidized by the city of Montreal.

On most days you will find former Canadian Olympian Hank Palmer here on the track, either indoors or outdoors, or training in the pool or weights room.

"If I didn't have this center, I probably wouldn't be at the peak I am, I would not have the career I've been able to have," said the sprinter, who competed at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

"This center really helped me develop myself, not only as a track athlete but an athlete in general because I have so many other sports around me.

"I can cross-train, do basketball, soccer, weight training, anything."

Part of complete coverage on
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
The moment that Team GB's Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters was a wonderful collision of electricity.
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1534 GMT (2334 HKT)
His blistering pace and larger-than-life antics made him the king of the track in London, and bolstered his claims to be a "living legend."
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 0944 GMT (1744 HKT)
Disappointment for Nigeria's Muizat Ajoke Odumosu, who came last in the 400m hurdles final, London 2012 Olympics.
The Olympics are generally won and lost long before the opening ceremony cauldron is touched by fire.
August 12, 2012 -- Updated 0738 GMT (1538 HKT)
Fans of the home side, Team GB, wave Union Jack flags during the Olympic Games
CNN's Richard Quest believes the London Games will be regarded as having brought the Olympics concept home.
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Strategist Alastair Campbell says he never imagined London 2012 would be quite the triumph it turned out to be.
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Award-winning director Danny Boyle celebrates the best of British music in London 2012's Olympic Closing Ceremony.
January 31, 2013 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
From Usain Bolt's record-setting achievements to an unexpected Ugandan gold, London 2012 has provided a wide array of highlights.
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 0305 GMT (1105 HKT)
CNN's Amanda Davies recaps the London 2012 Olympics from the opening ceremony on July 27 to the finale on day 16.
August 12, 2012 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt celebrate their success at the London 2012 Olympic Games by copying each other's
It's been just over two weeks since the Queen parachuted into London's Olympic Stadium, her apricot dress flapping in the breeze.
August 15, 2012 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
When the world's top marathon runners bid to win Olympic gold, they would do well to draw inspiration from one of the greatest athletes in the history of track and field.
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Team GB supporters with their faces painted in Union Jack designs at the Olympic Stadium in London.
Alastair Campbell always thought London 2012 would be a success, but never imagined it would be quite the triumph it has turned out to be.
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1021 GMT (1821 HKT)
Adrien Niyonshuti is unlikely to win an Olympic medal, and he will do well to even finish his event, but his story is surely one of the most inspirational.
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1605 GMT (0005 HKT)
The colors of the Olympic Rings at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, August 2012.
Olympic fever has cheered up London and made it a more welcoming place, but will optimism be one of the legacies of the Games?
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Wojdan Shaherkani's Olympic debut was short, but sweet -- the Saudi judoka said competing at the Games was
London 2012 is the first Olympics to feature women in every national team, with Jacques Rogge hailing a "major boost for gender equality."
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
An impoverished South Korean gymnast has not only struck Olympic gold, but also reaped a $444,000 donation in a veritable rags to riches tale.
August 9, 2012 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
Britain's hero Jessica Ennis is set to cash in after winning heptathlon gold, but the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics says fame is not her motivation.
August 8, 2012 -- Updated 0746 GMT (1546 HKT)
China is rallying around fallen hurdler Liu Xiang after he failed to make it past the first-round heat for a second consecutive Olympics.
August 3, 2012 -- Updated 1930 GMT (0330 HKT)
The first woman to win Olympic gold almost died in a plane crash, but remarkably returned to run again for the U.S. in 1936.
August 7, 2012 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
Don Paige could not bear to watch the race he knew he could win. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were the death of a dream for many athletes.
August 4, 2012 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
Ricardo Blas Jr
While Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt grab the headlines, little-known athletes from around the world keep alive the original spirit of the Olympics.
Athletes spend years eating the right foods ... and then must resist the free fast food in the Olympic village. How do they do it?