The Summer Olympics are finally set to begin. But unless you’re one of the roughly 11,000 athletes who qualified for the Tokyo Games, you won’t set foot on the field, floor or court at the athletic venues. Luckily, you don’t have to actually be an Olympian to feel like one.
So instead of heading to Tokyo 2020, visit one of the cities where past Olympic Games events have been held and compete on the same sites where your favorite players once performed feats of dazzling athleticism.
Here are seven places where the public can access Olympic venues still used for competition.
1. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Then: Some of the most iconic moments of the 1984 Olympics took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Carl Lewis won four gold medals and Joan Benoit Samuelson closed out a historic victory in the first women’s marathon.
Now: With the Summer Games returning to Los Angeles in 2028, the LA Coliseum will be the only stadium to hold Olympic events three times (the city also hosted the Games in 1932). Before then, you quite literally can follow in the footsteps of Lewis, Samuelson and more. The Coliseum hosts events such as the Walk for Wishes on the track, and visitors can also take guided tours where you can do your best Olympian imitation with an impromptu 100-meter dash.
2. London Aquatics Centre
Then: During the 2012 Games in London, the London Aquatics Centre hosted one of the most incredible Olympic achievements of all time—swimmer Michael Phelps winning his record-setting 19th Olympic medal. Phelps eventually collected six medals at the Games, boosting him to a then-career total of 22, each one earned at the Aquatics Centre.
Now: The Centre is open to the public daily for family fun swims as well as lane swimming and swimming lessons. You can opt for a membership or pay per-session if you’re visiting. Local swimming clubs also hold meets at the three-pool facility.
3. Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre
Then: Back when Phelps was a teenager competing in his first Games, the swimming events for the 2000 Sydney Olympics happened at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre. Aussie Ian Thorpe dominated in the pool, much to his native country’s delight.
Now: Whether you prefer water polo or diving, swimming lessons or playing Marco Polo, you can head to the Aquatic Centre to swim—it’s open to the public.
4. Beijing National Stadium
Then: Better known as the Bird’s Nest, this venue for the 2008 Beijing Games cost almost $250 million to construct and included then-state-of-the-art technology, as well as a unique architectural plan that left some of the steel supports naked, sparking the Bird’s Nest nickname.
Now: The Bird’s Nest is poised to become one of the only structures used during the Summer and Winter Olympics when it once again holds the opening and closing ceremonies, this time for the 2022 Winter Games. In the meantime, visitors can watch equestrian events and concerts at the venue or attend the Bird’s Nest’s annual Ice and Snow Festival, where they can ski, play ice hockey, snowboard and more.
5. Athens Olympic Sports Complex
Then: The Athens Olympic Sports Complex hosted one of the Athens Games’ most popular events in 2004, artistic gymnastics. Two Americans, Paul Hamm and Carly Patterson, flipped away with the individual all-around golds. Cycling and tennis also played in the complex.
Now: Many of the 2004 Olympic venues in Athens have fallen into ruin and are no longer used. But the Athens Olympic Sports Complex continues to host sports. These participants have a much lower profile than Patterson or Hamm—it’s most local youth basketball, soccer, fencing and other squads. Grab a ball (or sabre) and join the fun.
6. Ocoee Whitewater Center
Then: The canoe slalom took place at the Ocoee Whitewater Center during the 1996 Games in Atlanta, only the third time the event had been contested at the Games. The Olympic organizers turned a dry riverbed near the start of the Ocoee into an unforgettable course, including steep drops and slopes that challenged contestants.
Now: You can adventure along the Ocoee River, where the Ocoee Whitewater Center now serves as the base for a system of hiking and biking trails. On weekends in the summer and fall, you can test your paddling mettle by battling the rapids with a guide, or just splash in the water at the base of the center.
7. Olympic Golf Course
Then: In 2016, golf returned to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years. Rio eagerly showcased the beautiful Olympic Golf Course, built for the occasion within the Parque Natural Municipal de Marapendi.
Now: After the Games, Olympic Golf Course opened to the public. Everyday duffers can compete on the par 71 course where Justin Rose and Inbee Park won gold medals, and they won’t have trouble securing a tee time. Golf is not popular in Brazil, so tourists make up most of the players.
This article was originally published on January 31, 2020 and updated on July 20, 2021.
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