Just over nine months before the 2024 Olympic Games begins, Paris organisers are entering the final straight of a marathon, which has seen all but one of the 35 venues upcycled for the games.
“We are ambitious with these Games, and there’s a lot of expectations,” Étienne Thobois, the CEO of the Paris 2024 organising committee, told the Guardian last week.
However, it won’t, organisers insist, cost the earth.
In a significant shift in emphasis, 95% of the venues in Paris will be existing or temporary, with only the athletes’ village and aquatics centre constructed from scratch.
That means the Games’ planned budget of €8 billion is considerably less than that of London, Rio or Tokyo.
The Aquatics Centre and Athletes Village are the only venues for the Games required to meet this regulation; however, several venues are undergoing timber makeovers.
The Champs de Mars Arena.
The Champs de Mars Arena was constructed in 2021 to host art, fashion, and sporting events, while the Grand Palais was under construction.
Architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte designed the arena “to aesthetically reflect the Grand Palais while showcasing sustainable design and materials.”
As Wood Central reported in February, the venue will host the wrestling and judo, which comprises a massive glue-laminated timber superstructure incorporating 1500 cubic metres of European spruce.
The Georges-Vallerey Pool
One hundred years after the 1924 Paris Olympics, the Georges-Vallery pool is one of the venues undergoing renovations.
It was the first Olympic pool with a 50-meter pool, defined by separating the pool into several lines to create lanes.
However, the pool will not host competitive swimming events at the upcoming games due to its limited seating capacity.
Instead, it will serve as a training site – assisting Olympians in preparing for the games.
Wood Central understands that the work on the pool continues to schedule, with work to be finalised by March 2024.
The timber from the old framework will be used to make furniture and signage, which will be placed in the renovated pool.
The city of Paris has donated excess timber to the Extramuros Association, a Parisian volunteer association which recycles building materials.
The Athletes Village
French studio PETITDIDIERPRIOUX designed the village to combine hybrid timber and steel to reduce carbon in its construction.
Following the Games, the Village will transition into its ‘Legacy Phase’ and “become repurposed for 6,000 social houses in Saint-Denis, one of the poorer parts of the city,” according to Thobois.
The buildings rely on wood, integrating a regular structural framework for adaptability and reliability.
Wood Central understands that the village will be finalised later this year.
Questions over corruption and misuse of public money.
Before then, though, questions are being asked of the organisers after French police raided the Paris 2024 headquarters last month.
It was part of two preliminary corruption investigations, looking into allegations of favouritism and misuse of public money in the attribution of construction contracts dating back to 2017 and 2022.
“We are probably the most watched and controlled organisation in France right now with the various entities,” he says.
“All the safeguards and watchdogs are in place to ensure these Games run smoothly and are ethical.”
Civil Unrest, Terrorism and Infighting.
The police probe is just one of the organisers’ many concerns.
Brigitte Henriques, the president of France’s National Olympic Committee, resigned in May amid rumours of bitter internal conflict.
Concerns about disturbances or strikes at the Games have also grown due to the recent turmoil in France.
Thobois, however, is upbeat, “we have a very vibrant democracy,” he says.
“But the Olympics is special. We also have a very close relationship with the unions, they sit on our board, and the discussion is constructive.”
In the face of terrorism, 30,000 police personnel will be mobilised, and Thobois says that organisers are taking every precaution to guarantee a secure Games.
The organisers assert that the Games will also leave behind “intangible” legacies, such as working with schools to encourage students to engage in 60 minutes of physical exercise daily to combat obesity, developing jogging and cycling routes around cities, or including disability considerations into their procurement strategy.
Time will tell. However, Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics, believes Paris is on course to be a huge success.
“After the necessary austerity of the Tokyo Games, there is high anticipation of a return to a full global celebration of the Games and the athletes in Paris,” says the man who knows a thing or two about such matters, having been in charge of London 2012.
For now, Thobois insists nothing is keeping him awake at night. “I don’t sleep a lot, but I sleep very well,” he tells the Guardian.
“There are problems every day, but there is an ability to solve them day after day, too, and that brings us confidence.”
He pauses and smiles.
“A project of that magnitude is complicated and challenging. But we are conscious that this thing is a bit special. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience as an individual and once in a century as a country. And so we’re very excited. Very excited indeed.”