The 1976 Montreal Olympic Games 40 years on
July 27, 2016 11:05 AM   Subscribe

On the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the Montreal Gazette is running an extensive retrospective series on the preparations for, legacy of, and notable moments at the games.

Cost overruns tarnished Jean Drapeau's legacy - "Drapeau had vowed the Montreal Games would be “self-financing,” setting a $120-million budget in 1970. By the time the Games opened in July 1976, the tally had risen to $1.3 billion. By 2006, when the Olympic debt was finally paid off, the price tag for the adventure would reach about $2.5 billion in capital and interest."

1976 Montreal Olympics: City was a nervous wreck days before opening ceremony

"By the time the Games started, 11 men had been killed in work-related accidents during construction of Olympic facilities. Families of dead workers were each given two tickets to the opening ceremony."

Montreal Olympics: African boycott of 1976 Games 'changed the world' - "More than 30 countries walked out of the 1976 Games, mostly from Africa. Some athletes already taking part in preliminary competitions had to pack up and leave. It was a key moment in the fight against racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa, which would end almost 20 years later."

1976 Montreal Olympics: Drapeau's baby from bid to billion-dollar bill - "Still there were 6,084 athletes (4,824 men, 1,260 women) from 92 nations competing in 21 sports in Montreal, and a handful of them produced performances for the ages, beginning with tiny Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci and gargantuan Soviet weightlifter Vasily Alekseyev. American decathlete and relentless publicity hound Bruce Jenner led the Olympics in a new event — the race to turn Olympic gold into cold, hard cash. A superb collection of American and Cuban boxers strutted their stuff at the Forum and Finnish distance runner Lasse Viren repeated his double gold medal in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the Munich Olympics."

"The 1976 Summer Games were the first in which women competed in basketball, handball and rowing."

Gallery: Montreal life in 1976 (not counting the Olympics)

Other coverage:

Quebec's Big Owe stadium debt is over (2006).

Sins of troubling 1976 Olympic Games endure in Montreal

MIT Technology Review: Full Scale of Olympic Financial Disasters Revealed - "The average cost overrun for Olympic games is 156 percent. The games with the biggest overrun is Montreal 1976, which overspent by a whopping 720 percent and took the city 30 years to repay. This is followed by the Winter games in Lake Placid 1980, which had a 324 percent cost overrun, Sochi at 289 percent, and Barcelona at 266 percent."

Everyone's a critic - "Corridart was designed to showcase Quebec artists during the 1976 Montreal Olympics. But, as Taylor C. Noakes writes, one very important person was less than impressed."

Montreal: The Olympic Legacy - "Back in 2003, when Vancouver was putting together its bid for the 2010 Winter Games, Dick Pound -- a member of the International Olympic Committee -- defended the legacy of the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics in Maisonneuve."
posted by mandolin conspiracy (19 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a trove of anti-IOC sentiment:
posted by BentFranklin at 11:11 AM on July 27, 2016

From the G&M article: Montrealers tend to think that there’s too little remaining from Expo 67 and far too much left from the 1976 Olympic Games.

Yeah, too bad Expo 67 is basically ancient history. Even the Romans left more buildings behind. I think I attended a couple of events at the '76 Olympics as a pretty small kid but I can't say I remember much about it.
posted by GuyZero at 11:12 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've read that the 90s separatism referendum fears causing Anglo flight are overrated- the Olympics were what kickstarted Montreal's decline. How's the city these days?
posted by Apocryphon at 11:16 AM on July 27, 2016

I lived in Montreal for a time in the early '90s, and there were vacancies everywhere. For a renter it was great, but at the same time it felt like the city was still in the grips of a recession caused in part by the insane spending binge of the '76 olympics.

During my time there, a 40 ton concrete chunk of the stadium fell off. That seems to me to be the perfect metaphor for the Montreal's misadventure with the Olympics.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 11:28 AM on July 27, 2016

"Yeah, too bad Expo 67 is basically ancient history. "

Habitat '67 4 LYFE!
posted by I-baLL at 11:33 AM on July 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

A lot of great stuff here -- thanks, OP!
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:36 AM on July 27, 2016

Drapeau is identified as the culprit for running Montreal 1976 in a corrupt fashion. And these days, with the scale and luxury that the IOC has come to require, it seems as though the only way you'd actually want to bring the Games to your country is if you had some friends who owned construction companies and you wanted to throw them some business.

You can throw an Olympics like we did in 1984 in Los Angeles where you use mostly pre-existing facilities, but LA only got those games because nobody else put up a bid. When your only motive for hosting the games is good will and perhaps showcasing your hospitality to the world, you have little incentive to wine, dine, or bribe the people who are in charge of picking the city, hence you can't compete with countries run by autocrats or plutocrats.

I wonder if it's possible to separate this perverse incentive from the original intent of the games. One permanent site wouldn't really feel like the Olympics to me. Maybe a few major nations could form a bloc and say that any Games which doesn't meet some basic requirements — transparent accounting, no more than 10% funded by public money, etc. — is one they won't participate in.
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:36 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

By the time of the 1995 referendum, most of the Anglo flight was completed, triggered by the 1980 referendum. After losing in '95, it was pretty clear that a third referendum was very unlikely, so no one bothered running, but following '80 most of the corporate headquarters started their migration to Toronto, pulling a large number white collar jobs and anglo executives with them.

The 1976 Olympics were part of a perceived history of ongoing public sector corruption in Quebec, so I don't know if they were directly responsible. The 1980 referendum was really the body blow to Montreal.
posted by fatbird at 11:39 AM on July 27, 2016

American decathlete and relentless publicity hound Bruce Jenner

Is this commentary on how Jenner behaved in the 1970's or is this in reference to her modern day celebrity? I don't know enough of pre-Kardashian Jenner to say.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 11:40 AM on July 27, 2016

Is this commentary on how Jenner behaved in the 1970's or is this in reference to her modern day celebrity? I don't know enough of pre-Kardashian Jenner to say.

I was a little leery of including that, but based on the fact she was far from a low-key Olympic athlete in the 70s, I was thinking this was more the case:

Jenner's Olympic gold medal was so significant that he made the front of the Wheaties cereal box. That might not sound like much now in this endorsement-crazed culture, but he was the first Olympic athlete in 10 years to have done so. The next one would not be until 1984, when Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first female athlete to grace the front.

Jenner also taped a Wheaties commercial so widely viewed and well-known that it inspired John Belushi's "Little Chocolate Donuts" parody on "Saturday Night Live."

All of this made Jenner a household name. He was as famous and as popular as any athlete at the time -- right up there with Roger Staubach, Johnny Bench, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jack Nicklaus.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:59 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was going to post a link about how Denver avoided this mess in '76, then I realized that was the Winter Olympics, and now I learned that the Olympics shared years until the '90s.
posted by Monochrome at 12:03 PM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Aislin's piece was a fun read. There's a documentary about him which is worth the time, if you're a fan of cartooning.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:29 PM on July 27, 2016

I wonder if it's possible to separate this perverse incentive from the original intent of the games. One permanent site wouldn't really feel like the Olympics to me.

The Olympics was made a traveling festival in order to spread and proclaim the gospel of amateur athletics.

Methinks that mission has been accomplished. All nations have heard the Gospel.
One nation remains dear to my heart for having heard the gospel and ignored it. But it's time for the Games to to settle to a permanent home.
posted by ocschwar at 12:42 PM on July 27, 2016

I don't see it mentioned, but the single coolest legacy of the 1976 Olympics is the "Big O." It was originally the ceremonial entrance to the stadium for the athletes, but after the Olympics it became renowned as one of the best skateboard spots in the world.

A few years back, the stadium was being renovated and expanded for use by the Montreal MLS team, and there was a lot of fear that the Big O would be destroyed, but the skateboard community and the stadium owners got together, and it was arranged for the entire structure to be moved intact over 25 meters and preserved as a dedicated skate spot.

Vice Magazine article with lots of pictures

Video (jump to 1:00 for the actual skating)
posted by 256 at 2:00 PM on July 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

How's the city these days?

Vibrant and marvelous. But still unbelievably corrupt.
posted by 256 at 2:03 PM on July 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Why, why wasn't this post last week when it could have helped me in the Learned League 'Down with the IOC' One Day Special?
posted by palindromic at 2:52 PM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

256: "But still unbelievably corrupt."

And, to be clear, this isn't "corrupt" in an abstract, generalized, "I don't really like that politician so I'm just going to call them 'corrupt' without actually specifying what kind of corruption they're up to" way. We're talking about hard-core, old-fashioned corruption: an entire construction industry controlled by organized crime, kickbacks & bribes, bid rigging, extortion, etc... The works. Still a beautiful city, though.
posted by mhum at 3:02 PM on July 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Another, uh, concrete example.

Comme ça, avec rebar in snowbanks.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:05 PM on July 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Montreal has had a recurring cycle of corruption, commissions of investigation into corruption, and then group amnesia resulting in the same people getting re-elected and picking up where they left off. The report mentioned in mhum's linked article, which took a long time and cost a lot of money, was spiked even as it was launched by a dissenting opinion from one of the commissioners – mentioned in passing by the Guardian writer, but a huge deal in Montreal where the hearings had dominated local news for months. When the much anticipated report went over like a lead balloon there was an audible groan.

Alanah Heffez wrote a series of short but fascinating articles in 2013 about earlier inquiries: the 1909 Royal Commission, the 1924-25 Coderre inquiry, the Caron inquiry in the 1950s which made a household name of journalist investigator Pax Plante, and the lengthy Mafia inquiry which took 12 years to figure out what everyone already knew about the mob's domination of certain businesses and trades. The phrase Heffez uses here, "from scandal to indifference," comes from historian Jean-Paul Brodeur's 1984 book La délinquance de l'ordre, which is only available in French.

Starting in 2009, six journalists in five different newsrooms uncovered a pattern of corruption that saw the mayor resign, his replacement arrested and charged with fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust, and endless stories of collusion and bribery at city hall revealed in the media. Nonetheless, Montrealers stayed away in droves from the 2013 municipal election and the scant 40% of eligible voters re-elected a city council that included many of the same faces who'd been on board for the earlier follies. The scandal was over: hello, indifference.
posted by zadcat at 7:14 PM on July 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

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