20 Mar 2017

Olympian

Montréal certainly had its share of woes with the Summer Olympics it hosted in 1976. Although the games itself were a success, the brainchild of mayor Jean Drapeau left the city with a stadium capped by a roof that collaped under snow, an unfinished inclined tower, and debt of well over $1bn. It took the province 30 years to pay it off, and by the time the dues were paid, the venues were in need of a comprehensive renovation. They joined most of the other infrastructure from the city's 1967-1976 boom years in the queue, and gradually fell into disrepair.

So far, so familiar. In fact, many more recent host cities for the games have let their stadiums, tracks, velodromes and ski jumps crumble in far less time - not the testament to sustainability the IOC likes to trumpet.

And yet: As our guide pointed out on a recent tour of Montréal's Olympic stadium, this is one of the few venues built for games that has been in continuous athletic use ever since the flame was extinguished. $100M of tax money has just been sunk into an overhaul of the aquatic center, with $300M more to follow for the rest of the grounds in the next 20 years (apply a generous multiplier to future amounts to account for Québec's inevitable cost overruns.) 

I suspect it would have cost less to just build a new pool from scratch, but at least the $100M investment has indeed produced a very nice and modern facility. So much so that, despite its out-of-the-way location in the city's east end, I have just signed up for an annual membership.

This comes at the expense of the YMCA, whose facility maintenance and swim lane availability have steadily declined over the last 3 years. I was generally unimpressed with the Y's business acumen and concern for customer service - perhaps the flipside of it operating as a charity. The final drop in the pool bucket was an announcement that the YMCA closest to my workplace would close because the administrators failed to produce a viable business model to account for rent. By the time they managed to secure a 1-year extension from the building owners, I was already gone.

Now, I am doing my laps where great athletes (and steroid-laden GDR swimmers) have won medals before. Even if I remain faithful to the non-compete clause, seeing the Olympic rings hanging over the pool makes elevates my workout: I am now the Olimpian!

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