Hoop Jumping for the Olympics & Other Quebec Curios

Montreal's Olympic Stadium, designed by Roger Taillibert for the 1976 event. Photo credit: Tolivero/Wikimedia Commons. Montreal's Olympic Stadium, designed by Roger Taillibert for the 1976 event. Photo credit: Tolivero/Wikimedia Commons.

The Olympic Stadium: a giant, donut-shaped building. That’s about it, right? In a word, non. Envisioned by French architect Roger Taillibert, featuring a retractable roof and the tallest inclined structure in the world, and costing over a billion dollars, the Olympic Stadium (Parc Olympique) is either an awesome piece of futuristic architecture or a pain to look at. With its capacity of over 65 thousand seats, it is the largest seating capacity in Canada. But the Olympic Stadium does indeed have somewhat noble beginnings in its intention for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games, the first time the Games were in Canada and Montreal’s second big show to the world (the first, arguably, being the Expos in 1967).

Politically, the Olympics were charged from the beginning. Due to New Zealand playing a soccer game in South Africa, then in apartheid, many African sovereign nations boycotted the games. The Republic of China (the island of Taiwan) was denied to play under the name “Republic of China” because Pierre Elliott Trudeau had recognised the People’s Republic of China (the mainland country), so they boycotted the games. And why Montreal in the first place? Well, nobody seemed to want it in the Soviet Union: this was during the Cold War, after all, and unlike the Beatles song, nobody wanted to be “back in the USSR”. The Soviet Union came second in the Olympics bid, and eventually hosted the next Summer Olympics.

Yet Montreal did win the bid. Now who would open the ceremonies? The Queen, maybe? She is head of state, after all. The path getting the Queen to attend was interesting, to say the least, and involved three of our favourite politicians: Pierre Elliott Trudeau, René Lévesque, and Robert Bourassa. Bourassa told Trudeau to advise the Queen to attend the opening games. René Lévesque jumped on board, and asked the Queen to ignore Trudeau. Of course, a commoner, even the Premier-to-be, cannot give instructions to the Queen, but luckily the days of the Tower of London were long gone. The Queen was not still amused, however, and indeed came to Montreal to officially open the Games.

Montreal’s Mayor at the time, Jean Drapeau, promised Canada that the Olympics would cost about 300 million, but that number skyrocketed by the Olympics’ end to over 1.5 billion. In 1980, the Lévesque government commissioned the Malouf Inquiry that would shoulder the blame mostly on Mayor Drapeau (greatly saddening Lévesque, who had hoped the Commission would lay the blame on his political buddy Bourassa). The Commission reported Drapeau was rather lax on the rules and let Taillibert run wild with his constructions. The stadium would take thirty years to pay off. The biggest slap in the face, however, was that the Soviet Union got the most medals (one hundred and twenty-five) in 1976. We, on the other hand, only got eleven.

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