What Happened to the Venues of the 1980 Moscow Olympics?

What Happened to the Venues of the 1980 Moscow Olympics?
Interior of a swimming pool at the Moscow Olimpiyskiy Sports Complex // © Anastasia Tsayder

Russian photographer Anastasia Tsayder offers an illuminating case study in Summer Olympics, a series that revisits some of the venues the Soviet Union built for the ill-fated 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. “[I wanted] to tell a story about the hopes for a utopian future encapsulated in this architecture,” the photographer says, “and about how far from reality these expectations turned out to be in the end.”

Tsayder grew interested in shooting Moscow’s Olympic venues after moving to the Russian capital from St. Petersburg in 2012. Walking around the city, she kept noticing massive structures that looked like they belonged in sci-fi movies. Almost all had been built for the Olympics under an infrastructure project purported to have cost $9 billion (roughly $26 billion today). It was Moscow’s moment to shine, undone by geo-politics: 65 countries, led by the United States, boycotted the Games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Still, it was an incredible endeavor for the Soviets, and Tsayder felt its legacy was worth documenting. “I wanted to get a better understanding of these events,” she says.

It took more than a year to secure permission to shoot inside the buildings. Tsayder found many still were used as sports venues, while others had been repurposed or were half-abandoned. The Bitza Equestrian Complex, for instance, still hosts events. The Druzhbah Sports Complex—which hosted Olympic volleyball and looks like something out of Star Wars—hosts tennis championships and concerts. The Krylatskoye canoeing and rowing basin, once run-down and mostly disused, has been reconstructed in recent years and held the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in 2014. []

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