Hosting the Olympic Games is a prestigious honor that cities around the world compete for with as much stamina and finesse as any world-class athlete. But just as with the sporting events they hope to celebrate, there can only be one winner, and when it comes to choosing a host city there is no silver medal.
Since the birth of the modern Games in 1896, several cities have submitted Olympic bid after Olympic bid, only to see their dreams of glory continuously dashed. Detroit alone has been rejected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) a whopping seven times!
These cities may be some of the losing-est Olympic hopefuls, but they still offer plenty of ways to get that sports fix, not to mention new and noteworthy gold-medal attractions that keep visitors coming back for more. While some cities last attempted a bid in the 1950s or 1960s, two of our picks – Istanbul and Madrid – are finalists to host the 2020 Games. Here’s hoping one of these rejects can finally get its chance at Olympic history.
Attempts: 1944, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972
Olympic Connection: You can’t blame Detroit for giving up its quest to host the Games after finishing second in the voting in 1964, 1968 and 1972. Detroit has produced many Olympic champions, including sprinter Eddie Tolan, who, in 1932, became the first African American to earn two gold medals.
Get Your Sports Fix: The 2012 London Games mark the first time that baseball is not an official Olympic sport since the 1988 Games in Seoul. However, baseball is the summer game of Detroit, and the Tigers play in Comerica Park, a gorgeous stadium that joined the city’s downtown in 2000. Ford Field hosted the Super Bowl in 2006 and is the home of the Lions. Both stadiums offer guided tours to the public.
Gold Medal Attractions: It’s easy to pick on Detroit and its struggles, but it’s a vibrant city with more green space than you might imagine. Take a bike tour with Wheelhouse Detroit to explore urban gardens that actually supply some of the city’s restaurants with fresh produce. To taste some of the local offerings, head over to the Saturday Eastern Market, where over 250 vendors peddle their wares (ranging from fruits and vegetables to artisanal cheeses) in open-air stalls.
Attempts: 1916, 1920, 1936, 1944, 1960
Olympic Connection: Thanks in part to the abundant geothermal waters of Hungary’s capital, citizens of Budapest – nicknamed the “City of Baths” – are known for their aquatic athleticism. The men’s Olympic water polo team dominates the competition with nine world titles, and in London the team will shoot for its fourth consecutive gold medal. Budapest-born Tamás Kásás plays on the team’s defense and like his hometown, water is in his DNA. His father, Zoltán, was an Olympic silver medalist on the national team in 1972. This will be Kasás’ fifth time competing in the Olympic Games.
Get Your Sports Fix: The water polo season takes place from May to September. To watch a water polo match while in Budapest, check the schedules with the Hungarian Water Polo Association or with the Hungarian Men’s Water Polo Team’s official site.
Gold Medal Attractions: Visitors have been enjoying the thermal baths since Roman times, but Budapest looks to its future with the construction of the $700-million downtown Corvin Promenade, due for completion in December 2013. The development will feature apartments and office buildings, as well as green spaces, restaurants and shopping centers – some of which are currently open. Coupled with modern architectural design and an upgraded public transport system, the promenade will act as a cultural and commercial hub or, as it’s advertised, Budapest’s new city center.
Attempts: 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2020
Olympic Connection: Every July since 1989, Istanbul has hosted the Bosphorus Cross-Continental 4-mile swimming and kayaking races, which is overseen by the International Olympic Committee and the National Olympic Committee of Turkey. An adopted Istanbulite, Ramazan Sahin – who won Turkey’s only gold medal in Beijing, for free-style wrestling – will return to defend his title in London. With only Madrid and Tokyo as competitors, Istanbul has a strong shot at securing the 2020 Games.
Get Your Sports Fix: Built for the failed 2008 Olympics bid, Ataturk Olympic Stadium – Turkey’s largest sports venue – will undergo an overhaul starting in January 2013 in preparation for the 2020 bid. While it’s closed, you can still catch a soccer game at one of the city’s other main arenas, like the 52,650-seat Turk Telekom Arena, where the Guinness World Records awarded the “loudest crowd roar at a sports stadium” (131.76 decibels!) on March 18, 2011. Istanbul also was named the 2012 European Capital of Sports and will host the WTA Tennis Championships October 23-28.
Gold Medal Attractions: Istanbul is best-known for its historic sites and structures, many of which underwent renovations during the city’s 2010 reign as a European Capital of Culture: that year the city completed a 17-year restoration project on the Hagia Sofia and refurbished a section of the Topkapi Palace housing a rare collection of Chinese and Japanese porcelains. At the same time, a strong Turkish economy throughout the past decade has resulted in new attractions like the Museum of Innocence (opened April 2012), based on the Orhan Pamuk novel of the same name and dedicated to daily life in the city.
Attempts: 1920, 1948, 1952, 1956, 2016
Olympic Connection: One of five U.S. finalists for the 2016 Games (Chicago won the U.S. bid and the Games ultimately went to Rio de Janeiro), the City of Brotherly Love is the birthplace of NBA star Kobe Bryant, who helped bring home gold in 2008 and will once again play guard for the men’s basketball team in 2012. But that’s not the Philly area’s only Olympic connection: Members of Congress upset over this year’s China-made U.S. Olympic team uniforms may do cartwheels when they see the U.S. gymnastics team’s Swarovski crystal-adorned apparel, which was designed and manufactured right here in the U.S. of A., 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia in Reading, Pa.
Get Your Sports Fix: Philly’s 19th-century Boathouse Row, a collection of 15 boathouses on the east bank of the Schuylkill River, is a testament to the city’s passion for regattas and boat races (as is Glenn Ochal, the 6’5” token Philadelphian on the 2012 rowing team). View the largest collegiate regatta in the U.S., the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta, held every May, from scenic Fairmount Park. Further south along the river is the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, where track and field fans gather by the tens of thousands in late April for the Penn Relay Carnival, now in its 119th year. Relay participants have won gold medals in every modern summer Games (excepting Moscow in 1980, which the U.S. boycotted).
Gold-Medal Attractions: We’ve written about the spectacular Barnes Foundation, the latest jewel in the crown of art museums along Benjamin Franklin Parkway (not far from Boathouse Row), but we haven’t yet given proper due to its next door neighbor, the small-but-impressive Rodin Museum, which reopened in July after a three-year, $9-million renovation restored the structure and its surrounding sculptures and gardens to their 1929 luster.
Attempts: 1972, 2012, 2016, 2020
Olympic Connection: Madrid is a finalist for the 2020 Summer Games and hopes to step out of the shadow of Barcelona’s Olympic rings (the Catalonian city hosted the Summer Games in 1992). The majority of the venues needed for Madrid’s 2020 bid already exist, with plans to hold cycling trials in the city streets, sailing in the Port of Valencia and tennis in the Caja Mágica.
Get Your Sports Fix: Head to Estadio Santiago Bernabéu to catch a Real Madrid soccer match. It has hosted sporting events since 1947 and can seat more than 85,000 spectators. If basketball is more your speed, make your way to Palacio de Deportes de la Comunidad de Madrid to watch the Real Madrid basketball club that was last season’s runner-up in the Spanish league.
Gold Medal Attractions: After the requisite trip to the Prado, be sure to visit Madrid’s up-and-coming neighborhood, the “Triangle of Ballesta” (aka triBall) where you can shop, see avant-garde theater productions and enjoy cocktails at Santamaría, la Cockteleria de al Lado, a bar in a former brothel.
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