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Geek Trivia: Olympic muddle winners

What Olympic venue featured the largest roof ever built?

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Athletes, ambassadors, spectators, security specialists, engineers, and pretty much everyone else are all currently testing the notion that Greece's legendary Athens is truly "ready" to host the 2004 Summer Olympic Games—despite widespread fears that construction and security shortfalls might prevent or delay the safe progress of the world's most revered collection of sporting competitions.

Aggravating this anxiety is the fact that the Athens Olympic venues are following in the longstanding Olympic tradition of architectural and engineering boldness, specifically with the Athens Olympic Stadium designed to push the envelope of modern sports venue design. Of course, those who ignore history are often doomed to repeat it, and many modern Olympic pundits forget that Athens was far from the first or only host city to face the prospect of unprepared or incomplete stadia.

While security concerns rightly top the list of priorities during these Olympic Games, and stadium design bears heavily on this subject, it's worth noting that another Summer Olympiad managed to proceed rather successfully despite its centerpiece stadium being widely regarded as an architectural disaster.

The 1976 Montreal Games were an overall success in spite of the fact that the widely anticipated Olympic Stadium, built to host the opening and closing ceremonies as well as several showcase competitions, was not completed before, during, or even years after the '76 Games. Designed to incorporate a then-cutting-edge retractable roof suspended from a massive architectural mast tower, the cost and complexity of the design skyrocketed construction costs and forced the stadium to open with no roof.

While most Olympic stadia feature at least partially open designs, the technically incomplete stadium with its largely unfinished mast tower was a major embarrassment to Montreal during the '76 Olympics. This blemish would exist for more than a decade. The Olympic Stadium did not receive its vaunted roof until 1988, 11 years after Major League Baseball's Montreal Expos began playing there—and 12 years after the Olympic Games.

Despite such mishaps, Olympic stadia have a largely proud architectural tradition, even where roofs are concerned. In fact, another Olympic venue featured the largest single roof ever built, an engineering triumph still lauded today.

WHAT OLYMPIC VENUE FEATURED THE LARGEST ROOF EVER BUILT?

What former Olympic venue featured the largest single roof ever built, an engineering accomplishment that stands in stark contrast to the Olympic Stadium roof debacle that plagued the 1976 Montreal Games?

Pop culture suggests that the Germans have an innate knack for engineering, and the Munich Olympic Stadium only reinforces that reputation. Serving as the centerpiece venue for the 1972 Summer Olympic Games, the stadium boasts the largest roof ever built.

The roof comprises thousands of tiles of transparent acrylic glass arranged to form a "tent" cover over the stadium. Supported by a steel net suspended between several large masts, the roof covers a total area of 85,000 square meters (915,000 square feet).

Though now more than three decades old, the stadium (and its signature roof) still serve as an active sports venue and tourist attraction. The FC Bayern Munchen professional soccer club uses Munich Olympic Stadium as its home, and the Munich Olympiapark hosts a variety of events under the glass tent.

The roof itself, however, offers its own unique draw—a view of the Munich skyline. Just bring 25 euros and a pair of jogging shoes on a fair-weather day when the Olympic Stadium is vacant, and you can take an organized climbing tour of the glass tent roof.

Think of it as urban mountain climbing. But while you're up there, you can also get a glimpse of the real thing. Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain, is visible from the roof, as are the foothills of the Bavarian Alps that surround Munich.

Yet, while Munich Olympic Stadium is an unabashed success—and has persevered as such for more than 30 years—it seems that the legacy of Montreal, not Munich, is destined to repeat itself. The city of Beijing will host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, and the Chinese government has commissioned an unorthodox and striking design for the centerpiece Beijing Olympic Stadium.

Dubbed the "Bird Cage" for its unusual exterior of crisscrossing architectural ribbons, work on the 100,000-seat venue recently came to a standstill so the government could revise the stadium design to lower costs. Such is the fate of many an ambitious Olympic project, and such is the stuff of great Geek Trivia.

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The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This week's quibble comes from the Aug. 4 edition of Geek Trivia, "Before spam was spam," which discussed the origination of the spam appellation. TechRepublic member Neilporter suggested another possible, non-Monty Python etymology for junk e-mail.

"Where I come from, Australia, and I'm also sure in the rest of the world, there's a very common saying: 'when the s**t hits the fan.' This refers to the fact that unwanted nasty material that hits the fan will then be widely splattered all over the place, and no one misses out. Polite people have then changed the word [to] a nicer one, notably 'spam.'"

While I'm sure spam connoisseurs might quibble with your quibble, reader, I think we can all agree that when the spam hits the fan, nobody's happy.

The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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