In order to commemorate the closing of the XXX Olympic Games in London, we here at The Main MTL would like to rewind that tape deck of yours, back to an era where rock n’ roll reigned supreme. In 1976, our beloved Montreal became the first Canadian city to host the Olympic Games – a feat they completed in memorable fashion.
In a number of ways, the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal was cast in a dark shadow from the very beginning. First off, in part to prevent an international outbreak, the IOC awarded Montreal the honour in 1970, granting them victory over the two remaining superpowers. Additionally, due to fear of unpopularity amongst sovereigntists, Premier of Quebec Robert Bourassa sent a letter to Canadian Monarch Queen Elizabeth II, asking her to formally decline Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s invitation to attend the games. Needless to say, his request was denied.
Furthermore, an African boycott involving 22 sovereign nations was spawned in reaction to the New Zealand rugby team’s tour of apartheid South Africa. Taiwan, then known as the Republic of China, was denied permission to participate under that name, as Canada had already officially recognized the People’s Republic of China. The combination of these two left 26 countries out of the competition. Drug allegations were also rampant at the Olympics, with East German swimmers in the spotlight for using anabolic steroids. Curiously, the East German swimmers won all but two gold medals in 1976.
However, of greatest importance perhaps is that the Summer Olympic Games in Montreal did not come cheap. A significant amount of construction was needed prior to the event – a large portion of which Montreal either struggled, or flat out failed, to complete in time. A number of long-lasting strikes (resulting in a loss of 155 work-days) affected construction of the Olympic Park, leading to official threats in early 1976 that the Games could be moved elsewhere.
In a prediction that would later haunt and embarrass him, mayor Jean Drapeau notoriously stated, “The Montreal Olympics can no more have a deficit, than a man can have a baby.” Held from July 17 to August 1 1976, the Olympic Games cost the city of Montreal a pretty penny. Actually, let me rephrase that. The Olympics were an economic calamity for Montreal, resulting in costs of over $2 billion (1976) and leaving the city in debt for three decades. (The debt was finally paid off in December 2006, thanks to a tax placed on the purchase of tobacco. Thanks, smokers!)
The stadium, often called The Big O, has been sarcastically referred to as The Big Owe, a testament to popular sentiment regarding the financial disaster surrounding its construction and maintenance. The Olympic Stadium – now the symbol, landmark, reminder, and official headache of the Games – was opened for action without its famous tower and retractable roof, which was to be a pioneer achievement for engineers at the time. As a result of the failure, severe rainstorms affected the men’s diving event as puddles formed in the high jump area, forcing Olympic athletes to clean up the mess themselves… talk about bush league!
However, despite numerous complications and drawbacks, the 1976 Summer Olympics were actually quite monumental; 27 world-records were broken over the course of the Games. Women’s events in basketball, rowing, and team handball all made their Olympic debut, while field hockey was played on an artificial pitch for the first time. Amongst several other notable achievements, fourteen-year-old gymnast Nadia Comaneci of Romania was the true star of the Games, earning the first-ever perfect score of 10.0.
Unfortunately, Canada finished the Games with only five silver and six bronze medals. This was the first time that the host country of the Summer Games had not won any gold medals – a feat that we would repeat again in 1988 Winter Games in Calgary in 1988, before skier Alexandre Bilodeau won Canada’s first gold medal on Canadian soil in Vancouver 2010.
In the years following the Olympics, the Montreal Expos and Montreal Alouettes moved into Olympic Stadium, staying until 2004 and 1997, respectively. Nowadays, the Olympic Stadium does not have an official host, and it remains to be seen what the future holds for The Big O, but something tells me it won’t be pretty.