A Fictional Superpanorama
Where the hell are we?
Geographically speaking, in the Northern
Hemisphere. Socially, on the margins.
And narratively, with some way to go.1
The reconfiguration of the Olympic Games is a fact. With the world's first globe-spanning railway as its backbone it will introduce the world to a unique experience through history and towards the future.
Development on and around the Diomede Islands between Eurasia and America.
The year 2020 was a significant year for the future of the Olympics, as no city had yet bid to host the 2032 event and the Games assigned to France for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028 were already facing extensive problems and delays. Apart from the debatable examples of London and Barcelona, hosting the Olympic Games in their current configuration had been a rather short-sighted investment for the cities. The model had more than once proven to be unsustainable, profiting only the few and leaving back a plethora of overpriced infrastructure, a mighty herd of white elephants that had gone unused, yet continued to drain public resources in maintenance
Having a different city reinvent itself to host the event every four years pretty much resembled reinventing the wheel, engaging a new team of planners, contractors, accountants, technicians, security personnel and volunteers every time and expecting them to execute various complex logistical tasks perfectly the first time out. Hosting had become a very precarious and expensive undertaking and a great loss of staff-hours and
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had identified the problematic years ago, but systematically postponed any substantial changes, since the prevailing arrangements had often been very rewarding for its members. Over the years and in more than one occasions working groups had been put together to brainstorm on possible reforms and changes. Their agendas included vague policies to “reduce the cost of bidding” for the games and “maximize synergies with Olympic Movement stakeholders,” but not to dramatically rethink the way the hosting works.
Proposals for new hosting models had often been brought to the committee since the 1980s, but were never taken into serious consideration. These varied and included the idea of rotating the Games among only five cities that had recently hosted the Games, or John Lucas’ vision1 for establishing a fixed 'New Olympia' on a location that would, like the Vatican, be granted neutral status. Others resembled some radical (for their time) projects of the ‘60s introducing a gargantuan touring infrastructure occupying empty grounds all over the world without interfering with given urban structures.
One of the most appealing proposals was the decentralization of the Olympics by assigning different athletic events to different cities. These would be hosted simultaneously in different corners of the world and broadcasted in real time. Since physical presence was no longer an issue, this arrangement would give the chance to cities, that would otherwise not have the capacity to host the whole event, to profit by hosting smaller fragments of it. Decentring the Olympic Games would at once make the competition more global by diversifying the host countries, yet at the same time less global by not gathering all athletes in one place. Besides, however noble the idea, the IOC felt it beared a rather modest attitude that was not at all representative of Pierre de Coubertin’s vision.
A serious rethink and a decision were overdue, but if the Olympic Games were ever to be modified, their new configuration had to be as ground-breaking as their establishment in 1896.
On the scheduled annual IOC meeting in January 2021, Sheikh Muthanna-al-Atallah drew the attention of the Committee when he presented his recent work on what he called 'Operation Loop Olympia'. A few months ago he had come across a study by the business student and young entrepreneur Adrien Étain, introducing a new
type of continuous global mega-event. One could say it was a very old romantic vision of many, reconceptualized within the times of its technological plausibility. Having conquered the technology of high-speed trains and artificial islands, a globe-spanning train was no eccentric fantasy any more. Not the most practical way if the destination is the desideratum, but certainly dramatic and ceremonial enough if the emphasis is given to the journey. The whole idea was too far-fetched to be taken seriously by Étain’s professors, he had however been granted an award for conducting an exemplary feasibility study for long-term cultural events in a global scale.
"I was instantly intrigued by this bold and challenging out-of-the-box thinking and put together an experts’ far-out-of-the-box think tank to elaborate on the concept’s realization. We worked out and adjusted a few inconsistencies and put together a first draft for the orchestration of the operation ‘Loop Olympia’. To base an Olympics’ redesign concept on investing in megastructures came across as very positive to the rest of the board members. Most mega-projects routinely overrun their budget massively. The average cost overrun for the Olympic Games by that time had been 179%, whereas the average overrun of a large transport project 27%. Moreover a global transport project would bring along the infrastructure for further ventures like the legendary Bering Strait crossing connecting Eurasia with North America."
Indeed, dreams of bridging the East and West across the Bering Strait had been percolating since the 19th century. Blueprints for a potential railway dated back to
1846 and since the venture's first approval by Czar Nicholas II in 1906, it had always been postponed due to wars or diplomatic tensions. Finally the time had arrived! Practically, the train would serve as an Olympic village on the move commuting the athletes between the venues and concluding a full round tour every four years. Specific locations and the adequate existing infrastructure around the world would be chosen for each sport . These locations combined with a long list of geographical factors
and the intertwining of the succession of summer and winter sports would result to a new timetable for the course of the events. Cities that had sacrificed a lot in the past to host the Olympic Games would now be given the chance to become part of them forever and enjoy the long-term merits of their investment. Apart from the established sports’ venues and stadia, potential frequent stops of the train for replenishment, maintenance, training, secondary social events or local marathons would benefit all other places on the route, while the rail infrastructure could be used for cargo transportations between the Olympiads.
The Committee unanimously agreed that a globe-looping Olympiad was a grandiose idea and the risk was worth taking. It took two years of intensive preparation until last May, when the International Olympic Committee officially announced its goal to introduce the first New Olympiad in 2034. Towards this ambitious intent, an exclusive selection of experts has been engaged and assigned the task of designing and developing the event to its last detail. The different divisions are manned with
some of the world's most eminent experience designers, speculators, consultants, and impossibility engineers. They regularly join forces and bring their progress for further discussion in front of a committee of mega-event managers, who are used to the business of compiling extensive lists of prospective hazards and threats to inform their strategies and operations.
" We have ten hard-working years ahead of us until the inauguration of the New Olympiad. Ten years is little time for such a project, so our research and course of actions have to be meticulous and effective. Having some of the world's greatest minds on board makes us however very positive that everything all around the globe will be set to welcome this revolutionary mega-event on time."
Division A is currently working on weaving together the ultimate itinerary for the train. The experts' quest here is probably the most complex one, as there are numerous options all equally feasible, but they have to conclude to the most effective one. In this time-based new experience it is important that all Olympic eras are represented with particular emphasis given to the progress and feats of engineering, that always found fertile ground to experiment and innovate at mega-events.
Their working space ironically resembles a war room with its huge interactive world map on which data and locations are assembled together strategically. They work on the algorithm that will according to the statistics, the venues, the capacity, the velocity and the weather produce the ideal route. Geodata for each potential location are being precisely calculated to ensure accuracy and efficiency. Apart from the the mathematical and economical criteria , political, cultural or even emotional ones have to be taken into consideration. These may lead to choices economically less efficient but of establishment value. Adrien Étain had in his initial study proposed a route favouring venues that acquired little to no renovation and could be put into use immediately.
Division A however has decided that nostalgia and collective memory are in many cases worth the investment. Sarajevo’s 1984 winter Olympics for example, have left behind abandoned venues that are practically unusable. Yet, the publicity that has been given to these ruins over the past years through photographers and podcasters who find nostalgia in former Yugoslavia, is of undisputable value and therefore an important addition to the itinerary.
While observing the map of all past host cities of both the Summer and the Winter Olympics, one notices the severe gaps in Asia and Africa and the overabundance of infrastructure in Europe and the United States. How could a more evenly distributed route be achieved? Dr. Tevoris Blake, head of the division, explains :
" For achieving a more regular timetable it was decided to adapt and include some structures built for recent World Expos , for example the ones in Astana and Dubai and establish some new locations on and around the new continental connections. Around Bering Strait for example we established Olympic stops in Fairbanks and Irkutsk and one on the Atlantic Ascension Island. At the same time and after long debates certain cities from Europe and the United States were deliberately excluded, for example Athens and Rome. Only the archaeological findings underneath every stone in those cities would make the building of the railway impossible. They have enough tourists and visitors as they are and besides, especially Greece represents the old static and localized Olympics, an association too strong to be incorporated in this innovative and forward-looking concept."
Division B is responsible for the design of the train, for which the name 'Helix' has been proposed by chief engineer Spiros Stasinopoulos. The division is run by highly experienced professionals in the field of transportation, who had worked on the progress of maglev trains and the hyperloop's vacuum technology. For the development of Helix they teamed up with Hollywood’s most original production designers to create something more than just another means of transportation: a new experience. It will provide accommodation for all athletes from all sports, trainers, medical personnel and the train’s staff and include facilities for working, training and leisure. Further plans include an Olympic Museum with a valuable interactive archive and an art gallery.
The bi-level train will be at least one marathon long and flexible enough to include, exchange or adapt modules accordingly. The first animated previews of the interior of the train are simply captivating. The training halls are bright and minimal with large floor-to-top windows that allow the alternating landscape to immerse into the interior and make it seem almost endless. The swimming compartments are lit by impressive baroque chandeliers, adding just the right amount of luxury to the athletes' everyday routine. The apartments are smart multifunctional units with built-in paraphernalia that can transform a bedroom into a karaoke party booth within twelve seconds.
As mentioned before, the idea is neither completely ground-breaking nor very modern, it was just that all the elements came together at the right time and for the adequate purpose. Helix will embody a more ‘grounded’ physical manifestation of the Instant City, a more interesting story than the ‘Supertrain’ and an even more ambitious feat on a global scale than the Breitspuhrbahn envisioned by Hitler himself.
The four years of each Olympiad will be an ongoing technological work-in-progress as far as the train itself is concerned. Like a living city it will grow, evolve and collect stories and memories. The constrained proportions of the train can have a very interesting effect on this new type of 'living machine’, dictating other ways of growth apart from expansion, that very often only widens or pushes away a community’s problems. The team is aware of the fact that their design and concept of usage for Helix will not only reinvent the Olympic Games, but revolutionize the way planners, thinkers and investors perceive urban life, mobility and distance, thus opening up numerous possibilities for future forms of habitation.
Division C is working on the establishment of the fixed continental links between Australia and Asia, Asia and America, America and Africa. In the first two cases the existing islands can offer sufficient support for the bridges and especially after the completion of the 55km long Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge in 2018, enough knowledge has been accumulated to plan these mega-structures with confidence. In the case of the Atlantic Ocean division C is responsible for terraforming huge amounts of rubble and space debris into the islands required to support the connection. Nine new islands are so far foreseen and are designed to follow the example of their neigbouring Ascension Island, that became Darwin and Hooker's 'green oasis'12 in the late 1870s. Using these as applied biology laboratories, scientists are called to develop artificial self-sustaining and self-reproducing ecosystems, that will eventually be used as the scientific starting point to green the future Mars settlements.
Throughout the whole process division C is in close collaboration with division D, which is focusing on the political and diplomatic issues that will need to be solved concerning borders and land reclamation. The issue of the artificial islands in particular needs to be discussed in the overall context of territorial and maritime disputes to
ensure they fulfill their initial purpose.
Other divisions are working on solving challenges like the achievement of the minimum ecological footprint, the evolution of applications that would make communication among the cultures easy and perhaps in the future evolve into a universal and official Olympic language and the eventual modification of the sports to accelerate the suspense of the event for the viewers. All aspects are currently being under review; from the number of the participants to the rules of the sports, everything will be gone through and adjusted or modified if necessary to comply with the new arrangements.
Overcoming the physical limitations of construction makes yesterday's extreme tomorrow's status quo. There is however a lot of strategic work yet to be done within the increasing global economic competition, until the first New Olympiad is set for its perpetual ritualistic journey. The strategic roadmap to the future of the Olympics is certainly not a bed of roses, but the very vision of domesticating the trip around the world including all floras and all faunas, all skies and all soils, all words and all tastes may result to the earth's best place to live.
When crossing the Atlantic Ocean one can enjoy the luxuriant mosaic of temperate and tropical vegetation on Ascension island’s highest peak, Green Mountain.