|The Big O|
The Big Owe
|Location||4545 Pierre de Coubertin Avenue, Montreal, Quebec H1V 3N7|
|Broke ground||April 28, 1973|
|Opened||July 17, 1976 (Olympics)|
April 15, 1977 (Baseball)
|Owner||Régie des Installations Olympiques (Government of Quebec)|
|Surface||Grass (1976; June 2, 2010)|
AstroTurf (1977–2001; 2005–2006)
Defargo Astrograss (2002–2003)
Team Pro EF RD (soccer; 2007–present)
|Construction cost||C$ 770 million |
C$ 1.47 billion (2006 – including additional costs, interest and repairs)
|Tenants||1976 Summer Olympics|
Montreal Expos (MLB) (1977–2004)
Montreal Alouettes (CFL) (1976–1986, 1996–1997) (2002–present, playoff games only)
Montreal Manic (NASL) (1981–1983)
Montreal Machine (WLAF) (1991–1992)
Montreal Impact (MLS) (2012-present, first few games and occasionally after)
|Field dimensions||Foul Lines – 325 ft (1977), 330 (1981), 325 (1983)|
Power Alleys – 375 ft
Center Field – 404 ft (1977), 405 (1979), 404 (1980), 400 (1981), 404 (1983)
Backstop – 62 ft (1977), 65 (1983), 53 (1989)
The Olympic Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district of Montreal, Quebec, built as the main venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics. The stadium is nicknamed "The Big O", a reference to both its name and to the doughnut-shape of the permanent component of the stadium's roof; "The Big Owe" name has often been used to reference the astronomical cost of the stadium and the 1976 Olympics as a whole.
The stadium is the largest by seating capacity in Canada. After the Olympics, it became the home of Montreal's professional baseball and Canadian football teams. Since 2004, when the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington, D.C., the stadium has no main tenant, and with a history of financial and structural problems, is largely seen as a white elephant. It currently serves as a 56,040-seat multipurpose facility for special events (e.g. concerts, trade shows), and continues to serve as a 66,308-seat venue for playoff and Grey Cup games hosted by the Montreal Alouettes. The Montreal Impact also use the stadium on occasion when a larger capacity venue is needed or when the weather restricts outdoor play in the spring months.
The tower incorporated into the base of the stadium, called the Montreal Tower, is the tallest inclined tower in the world at 175 m (574 feet).
Background and architecture
The stadium was designed by French architect Roger Taillibert to be a very elaborate facility featuring a retractable roof] which was to be opened and closed by a huge 175 m (574 foot) tower – the tallest inclined structure in the world, and the sixth tallest structure in Montreal.
The Olympic swimming pool is located under this tower. An Olympic velodrome (since converted to the Montreal Biodome, an indoor nature museum) was situated at the base of the tower in a building similar in design to the swimming pool. The building was built as the main stadium for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games. The stadium was host to various events including the opening and closing ceremonies, athletics, soccer finals, and the team jumping equestrian events.
The building's design is cited as a masterpiece of Organic Modern architecture. Taillibert based the building on plant and animal forms, aiming to include vertebral structures with sinewy or tentacles, while still following the basic plans of Modern architecture.
As construction was well underway, a labour strike caused a major delay to the building of the stadium and, in particular, the tower. The roof languished in a warehouse in France until 1982. It was not until 1987, 11 years later, that both the tower and roof were completed.
Problems plagued the stadium from the time it opened for the Olympic Games, when it was only half built.
Seating 58,500 at the time, the stadium was not fully completed in time for the Games due to problems with the unusual design and strikes by construction workers. During the Games and for several years afterward, the stadium did not have a tower or roof. Both the tower and the roof, made of over 5,500 m2 (59,000 sq ft) of Kevlar, stood unfinished until 1987, and it was not until 1988 that it was possible to retract the roof. The 66-tonne roof then proved difficult to retract, and could not be used at all in winds greater than 40 km/h (25 mph). During baseball season, whenever rain was accompanied by high winds, this resulted in the unusual phenomenon of a rain delay in a covered stadium. It was also torn during particularly windy conditions.
When construction on the stadium's tower resumed after the 1976 Olympics, a multi-story observatory was added to the plan, accessible via a funicular that travels 266 metres along the curved tower's spine. The funicular cabin ascends from base of the tower to upper deck in less than 2 minutes at a rate of 2.8 metres/s, with space for 76 persons per trip and a capacity of 500 persons per hour. The cabin is designed to remain level throughout its trip, while providing a panoramic view to its passengers.
The funicular faces north-east, offering a view to the north, south and east. It overlooks the Olympic Village, the Biodome, the Botanical Gardens and Saputo Stadium. The Olympic Park, the stadium's suspended roof and downtown Montreal can be viewed from the south-west facing Observatory at the top of the tower.
Despite initial projections in 1970 that the stadium would cost only C$134 million to construct, strikes and construction delays served to escalate these costs. By the time the stadium opened (in an unfinished form), the total costs had risen to C$264 million.
The Quebec government introduced a special tobacco tax in May 1976 to help recoup its investment. By 2006, the amount contributed to the Olympic Installations Board accounted for 8% of the tax revenue earned from cigarette sales. The 1976 special tobacco tax act stipulated that once the stadium was paid off, ownership of the facility would be returned to the City of Montreal.
In mid-November 2006 the stadium's costs were finally paid in full. The total expenditure (including repairs, renovations, construction, interest, and inflation) amounted to C$1.61 billion, making it the second most expensive stadium ever built (after Wembley Stadium in London). Despite initial plans to complete payment in October 2006, an indoor smoking ban introduced in May 2006 curtailed the revenue gathered by the tobacco tax. Perceived by many to be a white elephant, the stadium has also been dubbed The Big Owe.
The stadium has generated on average $20 million in revenue each year since 1977. It is estimated that a large-scale event such as the Grey Cup can generate as much as $50 million in revenue.
Although not completed in time for the 1976 Olympics, construction on finishing the tower recommenced in the 1980s. During this period, however, a large fire set the tower ablaze, causing damage and forcing a scheduled Expos home game to be postponed. In 1986, a large chunk of the tower fell onto the playing field during another Expos game.
In 1987, an orange-coloured Kevlar retractable roof was installed, finally completing the stadium a decade late; however, soon after it was put into use it ripped on several occasions due to a design flaw. In the months that followed, it was plagued by further rips and leaks during rain storms, bringing water down into the stadium.
To improve the stadium's suitability as a baseball venue, it was remodelled in 1991, with 12,000 seats being removed, including blocking off a large number of seats far removed from the playing field, and moving home plate closer to the stands.
On September 8 of that year, support beams snapped and caused a 55-long-ton (62-short-ton; 56 t) concrete slab to fall on to an exterior walkway. No one was injured, but the Expos had to move their final 13 home games of that season to the opponents' cities. For the 1992 season, it was decided to keep the roof closed at all times. The Kevlar roof was removed in May 1998, making the stadium open-air for the 1998 season. Later in 1998, a $26 million opaque blue roof was installed which does not open.
In January 1999, a 350 m2 (3,767 sq ft) portion of the roof collapsed, dumping ice and snow on workers that were setting up for the annual Montreal Auto Show. This led to the auto show leaving Olympic Stadium for good. Repaired once again, the roof has been modified to better react to the winter conditions. The OIB has installed a network of pipes to circulate heated water under the roof to allow for snow melting. Despite these corrective measures, the stadium floor had remained closed from December to March. Birdair, the fabric provider and designer of the roof, was later sued for the roof failure. The installer of the roof, Danny's Construction, having suffered tremendous cost overruns along with its subcontractor Montacier, due to changes in the plans and specifications and delays, was teminated during the construction, and Birdair completed the project. Danny's Construction sued Birdair in 1999. In February 2010, after a lengthy trial, the Quebec Superior Court awarded a judgement in favour of Danny's Construction and dismissed Birdair's countersuit.
The stadium's condition suffered considerably in the early 21st century. During the Expos' final years in Montreal, it was coated with grime. Much of the concrete was chipped, stained, and soiled. In 2009, the stadium received approval to remain open in the winter, provided weather conditions are favourable. However, the Olympic Installations Board issued a report stating that the roof was unsafe during heavy rainfall or more than 8 centimetres (3 1/2 inches) of snow, and that it rips 50 to 60 times a year. The city fire department warned in August 2009 that without corrective measures, including a new roof, it may order the stadium closed. A contract for a new permanent steel roof was awarded in 2004, with an estimated $300 million price tag. In June 2010, the Olympic Installations Board sought approval from the provincial government for the contract. In May 2011 a committee was formed to study the future of the stadium and improve the usage of the stadium, pool, and sports centre.
A slab of concrete measuring approximately 8 by 12 metres fell from the roof of the stadium's underground parking facility on March 4, 2012. There were no injuries.
The Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes became the stadium's first major post-Olympic tenant when they moved their home games there halfway through the 1976 season, remaining there through 1986, the franchise's final season of operations. A revived Alouettes franchise returned for the 1996 and 1997 seasons, but then moved to the Percival Molson Stadium in 1998, only using the larger Olympic Stadium for select regular-season and home playoff games. As of 2008, the franchise uses Olympic Stadium for playoff games only. Due to the increased popularity of the Alouettes and the small capacity of Percival Molson Stadium, the team considered returning to Olympic Stadium on a full-time basis, but instead renovated Percival Molson Stadium to increase its capacity.
Olympic Stadium has hosted the Grey Cup a total of six times, most recently in 2008 when the Calgary Stampeders defeated the hometown Alouettes. The stadium holds the record for nine of the ten largest crowds in CFL history, which include five regular-season and four Grey Cup games. A single-game record crowd numbering 69,083 attended a game played on September 6, 1977 between the Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts.
In 1991 and 1992, the stadium played host to the Montreal Machine of the World League of American Football. This included hosting World Bowl II on June 6, 1992, in which the Sacramento Surge defeated the Orlando Thunder 21–17 before 43,789 fans.
In 1988 and 1990, NFL pre-season games were played at Olympic Stadium.
In 1977, the stadium replaced Jarry Park Stadium as the home ballpark of the National League's Montreal Expos, who regularly played 81 home games every season until 2003, when the Expos played 22 home games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Expos played 59 home games at Olympic Stadium in 2003 and 2004, and then the franchise was moved to Washington, D.C. after the 2004 season. The stadium's first-ever baseball game was played on April 14, 1977. In front of 57,592 fans, the Expos lost 7–2 to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Expos played five home playoff games in 1981; two in the National League Division Series against the Phillies, and three in the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. On October 19, the Expos lost the decisive fifth game, 2–1, to the Dodgers on Rick Monday's ninth-inning home run. In 1982, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was played at Olympic Stadium in front of 59,057 fans—a stadium record for baseball. On September 29, 2004, the Expos played their last game in Montreal, losing 9–1 to the Florida Marlins before 31,395 fans.
Although the Expos were Olympic Stadium's primary tenants, it proved to be somewhat problematic as a baseball venue. It employed construction techniques similar to those used in other multipurpose stadiums of the time. As was the case elsewhere where this approach was tried, sight lines for baseball left much to be desired. The sight-line problems were magnified by the fact that Canadian football fields are 30 yards longer than American football fields. To accommodate the wider Canadian football field, the lower boxes were set further back than comparable seats in other stadiums built during this time. The upper deck was one of the highest in the majors. Still, the Expos were very successful in the stadium for a time, with above National League median attendance in 1977 and from 1979 to 1983. The Expos outdrew the New York Mets from 1977 to 1983, and 1994 to 1996, as well as the New York Yankees from 1982 to 1983.
Before the 1992 season, a major overhaul was done on the stadium's baseball configuration. Home plate was moved closer to the stands and new seats closer to the field were installed. As part of the renovation, several distant sections of permanent seating beyond the fence were closed, replaced with bleacher seats directly behind the outfield fence. The total seating capacity for baseball was reduced to 46,000.
Longest home runs
Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates hit the longest home run at Olympic Stadium on May 20, 1978, driving the ball into the second deck in right field for an estimated distance of 535 feet. The yellow seat that marked the location where the ball landed has been removed from the 300 level. The seat is now preserved at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Stargell also hit a notable home run at the Expos' original Montreal home, Jarry Park, which landed in a swimming pool beyond the right field fence.
On April 4, 1988, the Expos' Opening Day, Darryl Strawberry of the New York Mets hit a ball off a speaker which hangs off a concrete ring at Olympic Stadium, estimated to have traveled 525 feet.
"Oh Henry" Rodriguez hit a ball on June 15, 1997, that bounced off the concrete ring in right field, caromed up to hit the roof, and came down, hitting a speaker. The distance traveled by this ball is also estimated at 525 feet.
The longest home run hit to left field was Vladimir Guerrero's blast on July 28, 2003, that hit an advertising sign directly below the left field upper deck. The ad was later replaced with a sign reading "VLAD 502".
The Olympic Stadium was the home of the NASL's Montreal Manic soccer team from 1981–1983. A 1981 playoff game against the Chicago Sting attracted a crowd of over 58,000. Several games of the 2007 FIFA Under 20 World Cup were played at Olympic Stadium and drew the largest crowds of the tournament, including two sell-outs of 55,800.
Olympic Stadium hosted a CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final game pitting the Montreal Impact – who play primarily in the adjacent Stade Saputo – against Club Santos Laguna of the Mexican First Division on February 25, 2009. This was the first time an international soccer game took place in Montreal during the winter months. The Impact won 2–0 in front of a record crowd of 55,571. The stadium was also home to a friendly match between Montreal Impact and A.C. Milan of the Italian Serie A on June 2, 2010 before 47,861 fans.
On March 17, 2012, a record crowd of 58,912 packed Olympic Stadium to cheer on the Montreal Impact for their MLS debut on home soil, in an entertaining 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire, setting a new attendance record for professional soccer in Quebec. That record was later broken on May 12, 2012 with 60,860 people for a match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, also setting a new attendance record for professional soccer in Canada.
Olympic Stadium hosted the Drum Corps International World Championship finals in 1981 and 1982.
On September 11, 1984, Pope John Paul II participated in a youth rally with about 55,000 people in attendance.
Many musical events have taken place at this location, including the famed riots after a 1992 Guns N' Roses/Metallica Stadium Tour concert. Metallica frontman James Hetfield suffered second and third degree burns to his left arm after stepping too close to a pyrotechnics blast during the opening of "Fade to Black". Metallica was forced to cancel the second hour of the show, but promised to return to the city for another show. Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose left the stage early in his band's set claiming that his throat hurt. The fans in attendance rioted after the unexpectedly-short concert.
British rock band Pink Floyd played an infamous concert at the stadium on July 6, 1977, during which bassist Roger Waters registered his disapproval of the audience's rowdy behaviour by spitting in the face of a fan in the front row. This incident provided the main inspiration for Pink Floyd's next album The Wall, which was written largely by Waters. The concert was also noted for its ticket price of $10, the highest ever seen in the city.
The stadium played host to Amnesty International's Human Rights Now! Benefit Concert on September 17, 1988. The show was headlined by Sting and Peter Gabriel and also featured Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Tracy Chapman, Youssou N'Dour, k.d. lang, Michel Rivard and Daniel Lavoie.
On October 30, 2010, the stadium played host to a special mass to commemorate the ascension to sainthood of brother Andre. Over 30,000 people attended. The Stadium also hosts the Monster Spectacular monster truck show twice a year, in April and October.
AC/DC, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis, The Jacksons, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Duran Duran and George Michael also performed at the Olympic Stadium.
Pink Floyd attracted the largest ever paid crowd to the Olympic Stadium. The July 6, 1977 event gathered 78,322 fans.
The stadium is directly connected to the Pie-IX metro station on the Green Line of the Montreal Metro.
Facts and figures
- At 175 m (574 feet), the Olympic Stadium is both the world's tallest slanted structure and stadium.
- Well over its original budget, the stadium ended up costing $770 million to construct. By 2006, the final cost had risen to $1.47 billion when calculating in repairs, modifications and interest paid out. It took taxpayers 30 years to finally pay off the cost, leading to its nickname of "The Big Owe" (a play on "The Big O").
- The roof is only 52 m (170.6 ft) above the field of play. As a result, a number of pop-ups and long home runs hit the roof over the years, necessitating the painting of orange lines on the roof to separate foul balls from fair balls.
- The Olympic Stadium's foul poles were painted red, while every other baseball stadium uses yellow poles (except Shea Stadium (1964–2008) and Citi Field (2009 – present) home of the New York Mets which have orange foul poles.)
- The Olympic Stadium holds the record for a soccer game attendance in Canada. At the 1976 Summer Olympics soccer final, 72,000 people witnessed East Germany's 3–1 win over Poland.
- A yellow seat on the 300 level commemorates a Template:Convert/LoffAoffDbSon home run by Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates. (It has since been removed to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame)
- The Montreal games of the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup were held at Olympic Stadium on a removable Team Pro EF RD surface that was purchased specifically for the tournament.
- For the first time since the Olympic Games, a natural grass field was installed in the stadium for the Montreal Impact match versus AC Milan on June 2, 2010.
- The stadium features a 101,600-watt public address system
- The main room of the stadium is the largest in Quebec, at 43,504 m2(204,400 sq. ft.)
As part of the commemorative stamps created for the 1976 Olympics, Canada Post issued a stamp depicting the Olympic Stadium and Velodrome.
- List of Canadian Football League stadiums
- Olympic Stadium
- Parc olympique et Stade olympique (in Template:Fr). Government of Quebec. Retrieved on March 2, 2011.
- CBC News. "Quebec's Big Owe stadium debt is over", Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, December 19, 2006. Retrieved on June 25, 2008.
- 1976 Summer Olympics official report. Volume 2. pp. 42–65.
- Rémillard, 196.
- Peritz, Ingrid. "Montreal's billion-dollar 'Big Owe': What went wrong in '76?", Globe and Mail, January 17, 2009. Retrieved on January 19, 2009.
- Building big: Databank: Olympic Stadium. WGBH. Retrieved on July 16, 2009.
- Egan, Andrew. "In Depth: World's Most Expensive Stadiums", Forbes.
- ESPN.com: MLB – Merron: What a disaster!. Static.espn.go.com. Retrieved on March 2, 2011.
- Canwest News Service. "Impact begin search for location for winter game", October 2, 2008. [dead link]
- "Olympic stadium suing U.S. roofers", CBC News, November 10, 2000. Retrieved on July 16, 2009.
- Parker, Dave. "Dome supplier faces Montreal compensation battle", New Civil Engineer, January 28, 1999. Retrieved on July 16, 2009.
- La Presse, Actualites, Samedi 13 Fevrier 2010, p. A9
- Riga, Andrew (January 9, 2009). It's a go for the Big O (if there's no snow). Montreal Gazette. Canwest. Retrieved on January 9, 2009.
- CBC News. "Olympic Stadium to get $300M roof", Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, June 29, 2010. Retrieved on June 29, 2010.
- Montreal Gazette. "Committee formed to study future of Montreal's Olympic Stadium", Postmedia Network Inc., May 8, 2011.
- Montreal Gazette. "Elephant in the room; Regie's committee on Big O a good start but leaves questions unanswered", Postmedia Network Inc., May 10, 2011.
- "Giant concrete slab falls at Montreal's Olympic Stadium", CTV News, March 5, 2012. Retrieved on 2012-03-05.
- CBC News. "Molson Stadium to begin $29.4M expansion", Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, March 9, 2009. Retrieved on March 9, 2009.
- Gouvernement du Québec (2004). About the Olympic Park – Facts and figures. La Régie des installations olympiques. Retrieved on November 22, 2008.
- Sports Reference (2008). Washington Nationals Attendance, Stadiums and Park Factors. baseball-reference.com. Retrieved on September 1, 2008.
- Sports Reference (2008). New York Mets Attendance, Stadiums and Park Factors. baseball-reference.com. Retrieved on September 1, 2008.
- Sports Reference (2008). New York Yankees Attendance, Stadiums and Park Factors. baseball-reference.com. Retrieved on September 1, 2008.
- Ballpark Digest. Jarry Park / Montreal Expos / 1969–1976. Ballpark Digest. Retrieved on 2007-09-22.
- Expos Media Guide 2004,Montreal Expos (2004). . ISBN .
- News. Montrealimpact.com. Retrieved on March 2, 2011.
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- mlssoccer.com - Recap: Record crowd sees Impact tie Fire in home debut
- "Galaxy tie Impact before record crowd", The Globe and Mail, June 18, 2012.
- The Pope in Canada: A Journey Into the Heart. Americancatholic.org. Retrieved on March 2, 2011.
- Anne Sutherland, Montreal Gazette: Monday, November 1, 2010 (November 1, 2010). 30,000 faithful flock to Olympic Stadium for Brother Andre celebration. Globaltvedmonton.com. Retrieved on March 2, 2011.
- ESPN.com: MLB – Merron: The Disastrous 'Big Owe'. Static.espn.go.com. Retrieved on March 2, 2011.
- Montreal Gazette (May 1, 2007). New rug for Olympic Stadium. Canwest Publishing. Retrieved on May 12, 2010.
- [dead link]
- RIO – Parc olympique de Montréal :: Salles au Stade olympique :: Location de salles au Stade olympique. Rio.gouv.qc.ca. Retrieved on March 2, 2011.
- RIO – Montreal Olympic Park :: Frequently Asked Questions. Rio.gouv.qc.ca. Retrieved on March 2, 2011.
- John Burnett. Canadian Stamps Marked Montreal Olympics. Retrieved on 2012-10-22.
- Rémillard, Francois. Montreal architecture: A Guide to Styles and Buildings. Montreal: Meridian Press, 1990.
- Official Website - Parc Olympique Quebec
- Official Website - Montreal Tower
- Olympic Stadium on Alouettes Website
- Ballparks.com: Olympic Stadium
- National Geographic Channel
- Football Ballparks.com
- Baseball-Reference – annual Expos attendance and park factors
- BaseballLibrary – history and notable events
- Régie des installations olympiques (Government of Quebec)
- Google maps
- Olympic Stadium datasheet on Images Montreal
- Expos Historical Society: Olympic Stadium
- Olympic Stadium disaster timeline
- A personal recollection of the spitting accident (Montreal, July 6, 1977, Pink Floyd concert), by Marcel Daoust
- CBC Archives – Clip from 1975 – Stadium architect talks about his design
- CBC Archives – A look back on the history of the stadium (1999)
- CBC Archives – Discussion of building a tower for Montreal
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