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Hosts’ real Olympic challenge: after the games

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A visitor poses on the Olympic rings after the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A visitor poses on the Olympic rings after the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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LONDON (AP) — For athletes and spectators at Sochi, it’s time to pack up. But for the host cities, the real challenge begins with the end of the Olympics. How do they continue to use the expensive stadiums after the party’s over? What happens to the athletes’ villages? What is the legacy of the games?

Here’s a look at what some past Summer and Winter Games sites around the world look like post-Olympics.

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LONDON, 2012

London continues to bask in the success of the most recent Summer Games, but the Olympic legacy is difficult to determine.

The flagship venue, renamed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, is being converted into a massive park as big as London’s famous Hyde Park, complete with wildlife habitats, woods and sports facilities. The first part of the ambitious project will begin to open to the public in April.

The 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium at the center of the park has been troubled by controversy since even before the games, and its post-games use was the subject of months of legal wrangling. The stadium is now being converted into a soccer venue and the home of the West Ham soccer club, with an expected price tag of $323 million. Many argue taxpayers should not have to fund a Premier League club, though officials insist that the stadium will continue to host other major sporting events, including the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

The athletes’ village is still being transformed into the rustic-sounding neighborhoods of East Wick and Sweetwater, but there are already signs that the process will yield less housing than originally pledged. Other promises, like the Olympic Museum due to open this year, have simply been quietly dropped.

There’s no doubt that the Olympics improved public transport in the city’s East End, historically a deprived, industrial area poorly served by commuter links.

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VANCOUVER, 2010

All games venues in Vancouver remain in use, with local authorities funding a $110 million trust to make sure that they don’t fall into disrepair.

The most successful venue appears to be the Richmond Olympic speed skating Oval, a widely-used community sports and events facility that attracts more than 550,000 visitors a year. Dozens of sports groups run regular programs at the Oval, which now houses two international-size rinks for hockey or speed skating, basketball and squash courts, an indoor track and a rowing tank. The venue, which has hosted numerous provincial, national and international championships in a variety of summer and winter sports, is cited as a positive legacy of the games.

Federal and provincial governments pay some of the Oval’s operating costs, as well as for the Whistler Sliding Center, used by athletes as a training facility, and the Whistler Olympic Park.

But the athletes’ village has not fared so well. The City of Vancouver had to take over financing for the 1,100-unit village after the developer stopped payment on its construction loan due to cost overruns and the 2008 financial crisis. The city has sold most, if not all, of the units, but it expects to lose nearly $300 million.

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BEIJING, 2008

Beijing, which spent more than $2 billion to build 31 venues for the 2008 Summer Games, is reaping some income and tourism benefits from two flagship venues, though many sites need government subsidies to meet hefty operation and maintenance costs.

The National Stadium, nicknamed the Bird’s Nest because of its lattice design, has become a key Beijing landmark and a favored backdrop for visitors’ snapshots. But few tourists are willing to pay more than $8 to tour the facility as enthusiasm for the 2008 Games fades, and the venue has struggled to fill its space with events.

The Water Cube — where U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps made history by winning eight gold medals — has been transformed into a water park popular among local families. Its operators even peddle purified glacier water under the Water Cube brand for additional income.

But other venues have withered in neglect. A rowing park in the city’s suburbs that cost $55 million has fallen into disuse, and visitors to this paid facility are few and far between. The cycling race tracks in another outlying district are covered in weeds, and the sand volleyball courts have been largely closed off to the public.

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ATHENS, 2004

The legacy of Athens’ Olympics has stirred vigorous debate, and Greek authorities have been widely criticized for not having a post-Games plan for the infrastructure. While some of the venues built specifically for the games have been converted for other uses, many are underused or abandoned, and very few provide the state with any revenue.

Some critics even say that the multibillion dollar cost of the games played a modest role in the nation’s 2008 economic meltdown.

The main Olympic stadium — built decades before the 2004 games but revamped for the 2004 Olympics — is still used for major soccer matches, and most of the surrounding facilities and stadiums are also used for sporting events and concerts. One of the most successful conversions of Olympic facilities is the old badminton venue, now a theater.

The athletes’ village was turned into housing for workers, but the communal areas were neglected, with frogs and debris taking over the old training pool in the village.

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SYDNEY, 2000

Before the 2000 summer Olympics, the site west of Sydney where the 1580-acre Sydney Olympic Park was built was a grungy, desolate wasteland of slaughterhouses, garbage dumps and factories.

Since the games, it has slowly developed into its own suburb with hotels, offices, restaurants and parklands. The park now hosts thousands of events each year, from music festivals to sports to business conferences, drawing more than 12 million annual visitors.

It’s also the home of the wildly popular Sydney Royal Easter Show, an agricultural fair that

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