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July 31, 2015 — Towards a truly movable feast

This morning, Beijing was awarded the hosting duties for the 2022 Winter Olympics. The city isn’t hosting everything; they will have to go to a pair of locales which are up to 100 miles away from the city.

The results of this vote, and the near-royalist demands of the International Olympic Committee disclosed during this cycle of Olympic bidding, have started discussions about perhaps designating permanent sites for Olympic Winter and Olympic Summer Games.

The argument is that you won’t have petro-authoritarian states like Russia, Kazakhstan, Qatar and China having enough money to buy the Olympics and build more opulent structures that, frankly, won’t be used again by the host nation.

But there is a worldwide multisport athletic competition which does not require permanent construction of large structures; instead, they are simply bolted together and assembled for the length of the competition, and disassembled and moved to the next site when it is over.

The name of this competition is The X-Games.

Yep, when the X-Games come to a major city, the city isn’t responsible for building a skate park, the enormous Big Air ramp, or the BMX courses. Instead, it’s the organizers who are responsible for building these structures, making sure the events are run safely on them, and take them down at the end.

I think the International Olympic Committee needs to do the same thing with the Winter and Summer Olympics. The IOC should be working on developing a portable 85,000-seat track and field system all in sections, ready to be bolted or scaffolded together after being flown to the site using military aircraft. The track itself would fit together like an indoor SportCourt, and the plumbing and concessions would be built into the structure. After the Olympics, the stadium can be disassembled and flown to the next Youth Olympics.

As far as I know, this kind of movable system only occurs in three Olympic sports: ice hockey, beach volleyball and track cycling. The people who govern these sports worldwide are experts in making sure their equipment can go from one place to another thanks to advanced construction and engineering techniques.

I think there could be portable facilities for ski-jumping, luge/bobsled/skeleton courses, and even field hockey if you engineered a porous platform with pipes to recirculate the water pumped out to reduce friction.

After the economic disaster of last year with the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, after which the world’s second-most expensive soccer stadium has become little more than a bus depot, the people who run the Olympics need to heed this lesson: there are many people around the world who do not want to see public money spent on sports venues especially if there is no return on the investment.

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