Arts + Culture

The Olympics Effect

by Bob Payne

Nagano, Japan, Winter 1998:
The Commuter Olympics

Going for gold: A city of about 378,000 people, Nagano was the first Winter Games host city chosen specifically because it was big enough to avoid many of the infrastructure challenges that faced small towns such as Lillehammer, the previous host. For a certain segment of the television audience, Nagano was most notable for the official Olympics debut of snowboarding. (The gold medal winner, of course, tested positive for marijuana.) It produced some interesting architecture, too, in particular the M-Wave, the speed-skating arena whose roof looks like waves or mountain crests—although even more visually arresting was the backdrop of real mountains.

Tourism legacy: With a total price tag estimated at $12.5 billion, Nagano was unusually costly for a Winter Games, in part because of the construction of a bullet train (pictured) that more than halved the trip time from Tokyo to 90 minutes. There is some thought that the train may have hurt the hotel business in Nagano, however, by making day trips from Tokyo possible.

Results: Bronze. The Olympic limelight helped the city's slumping economy for a year or two before it fell back again.

NEXT: G'day sport >

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