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Chasing the Flame

July, 2007
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  Having visited 6 host cities for the Olympic Games in 365 days, Greg Groggel, a young American guy chased the flames of Olympics on his own.

  “Are the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter achieved when a country plays host to the world?” This is the question which fascinated Groggel and which drove him, in part, to make this great journey.

  Groggel’s unwavering interest has always been sports. He attended the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games with his family. Then he worked for ESPN at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. That’s really where his interest took off.

  “As I drove through the Olympic Village for the Summer Olympics in Athens, I remember suddenly realizing that this enormous, costly project was doomed for desertion!” said Groggel. “I began to wonder who had lived at the site prior to the village’s development, and if these people would return after the Olympics had ended.”

  He decided to piece together their story and the story of the Games.

  Started last July 24, as part of his project, "Chasing the Flame: the Lasting Legacy of Hosting the Olympic Games" is his account of spending two months each in the former Olympic host cities of Mexico City, Munich, Sarajevo, Sydney, Seoul and the 2008 host Beijing.

  During his research trip, Groggel white water kayaked the artificial course in Sydney, bribed security guards to the Olympic Stadium in Mexico, traversed land mines at the former bobsled track in Sarajevo and visited the former Dachau concentration camp outside Munich. He also met with National Olympic officials, grassroots organizations, members of academia and media and directors of the former installations. In Sydney, Groggel guest lectured at the Olympic Studies Centre at the University of Technology Sydney, and while in Beijing he shared his findings with many expats and local people at the Beijing Bookworm on July 24…

  “I have discovered the idea of "olympic reductionism" where an Olympic Games are simplified in the global community and remembered for a single theme. For Munich, it was the terrorist attack; for Seoul, the drug scandal; and for Sydney, basically Cathy Freeman and the festival atmosphere. Thus for China, even if everything goes according to plan, it will still take a lot of luck for there to be a positive remembrance of their Games. What it really comes down to be luck.

  “The most positive impact of hosting the Games is the social one. What the Olympics represent is an opportunity for the host to occupy the world’s spotlight. It gives the city the chance to redefine their image. As for Beijing, a well-received recognition of the Chinese arts, culture and history in the world can be made.”

  Groggel said the Bird’s Nest design of the main stadium for the Beijing Olympics is the best he has seen for the whole year because it is “so modern and so well executed that I know it will leave a lasting legacy for Beijing.”

  He has got a plan come back here next summer for the Beijing Olympics.

  “I really enjoyed my two months here, so it would be a shame if I didn’t make it back next summer. Most likely I will be working for ESPN again; it is just lucky being a witness to it all.”

This is the route from my fellowship year. I actually went all the way around the world. Side trips included, I’ve taken over 23 flights.


This was the original sign for the Olympic Village in Mexico City where the athletes stayed. I was snooping around an old maintenance shed and found it around back. I wish I could have taken it back and put it in my home in the United States.
This is the iconic roof design in the Olympic Park in Munich. At the time of construction, the design was quite controversial. People thought it was too expensive and modern – much like the Bird’s Nest being built in Beijing. But over time, the roof design has become a trademark of the city.
The overview shot of the Olympic Park in Munich from the tower that looms over the whole complex. From up there you can see how well the park is designed.
This photograph is of the former officials’ tower at the ski jumping venue in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. You can see where the 1984 Olympic logo used to be and the bullet holes from the war. Below the logo is a marking from the United Nations group that occupied the sight during the war.
In the background of this photograph is the Olympic Stadium in Sydney. But equally interesting is the pole in the foreground. On it is the quote from former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch claiming that they were, "The Best Olympic Games Ever." They were also Samaranch’s last Olympics so he was never able to give out the same title again.
Bird’s Nest Construction: The National Stadium in Beijing’s Olympic Park is perhaps my favorite one I’ve seen this year.
Olympic Boulevard: The Olympic Boulevard in the Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia. Aesthetics aside, it communicates to the viewer the emphasis Sydney organizers placed on environmental measures as the solar panels demonstrate.
Poodle: I came across an elderly lady walking her poodle in one of Beijing’s oldest hutongs - I could barely believe my eyes! I knew I just had to grab a photograph so I ran after her. Luckily I had my camera with me, because I never saw her or her dog again.
Subway Seoul: The Dongdaemun subway station in Seoul, South Korea. Several of the venues were located at the stop when it was built for the 1988 Games. Somehow, the mosaic hasn’t been renovated after all these years. I sat there for over an hour trying to time the arrival just right.
Arena: This photograph is of one of the new arenas in the Beijing Olympic Park. I really can’t wait to see what it’s like when the dust has settled and everything is finished. The world is going to be impressed!
Olympic Green: One of my days in Beijing, I headed out to the Olympic Green with a translator and we spoke to several of the construction workers. When I asked one of them why they were trucking in huge mature trees, he told me that there wasn’t time for them to grow, they needed them ready then.
Velodrome: The venue is one of the few outside the city. I think the organizers should be commended for how they handled the planning. By spreading some of the venues outside of the Olympic Park they ensure that the benefits will also be shared.


Pictures and text by Greg Groggel

You are able to access his website at: http://web.mac.com/ggroggel or www.chasingtheflame.com

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