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10 Olympic Games That Nearly Bankrupted Their Host Countries


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1998 Nagano Winter Olympics
Jonathan Collomb-Patton of France competes in a snowboarding event during the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. This was the first Olympics to feature snowboarding. Doug Pensinger /Allsport
Jonathan Collomb-Patton of France competes in a snowboarding event during the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. This was the first Olympics to feature snowboarding. Doug Pensinger /Allsport

Nagano, Japan, a city of 378,000, spent a whopping $10.5 billion in preparation for the games, thanks in part to the construction of a bullet train to shuttle spectators between Nagano and Tokyo in 90 minutes, about half the typical time. But the bullet train had the unfortunate effect of encouraging tourists to book hotel rooms in Tokyo as opposed to Nagano. This earned the 1998 event the nickname, "The Commuter Olympics" [sources: Payne, The Economist].

As the games neared, the Nagano Organising Committee had to cancel a quarter of the 16,000 Nagano hotel rooms it had reserved due to low demand. Nearby ski villages reported that instead of being at 80 percent occupancy -- the normal level -- they were at a mere 60 percent occupancy as regular tourists steered clear of slopes presumably crowded with Olympic tourists. In the end, the Olympic Games didn't bring in the crowds nor did it boost tourism as the city had planned [source: The Economist].

The games ran at a loss but the full cost may never be known. During the bidding process, the Nagano Organising Committee plied International Olympic Committee members with first-class airline tickets, stays at luxurious resorts, and pricey entertainment. Later, a member of the bid committee ordered the records -- all 90 volumes of them -- to be burned. Nagano representatives insisted about $18 million was spent on the Olympic bid, but critics say the figure was closer to $66 million [source: MacIntyre].