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Olympic venues attract fans, tourists long past games

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In Sydney, you can swim in the same pool where Ian Thorpe won five Olympic medals in 2000. In Berlin, you can pose for photos in the stadium where Jesse Owens won four gold medals in 1936. In Lake Placid, N.Y., you can skate on the same rink where Eric Heiden speed-skated his way to five golds in 1980.

You don't have to go to London to enjoy the Olympics.

Many venues used for past Olympic Games are still standing, some in modified form. A few are open for public sporting use, while many others offer tours for a fee. Many Olympic cities also have sports museums with heavy doses of Olympic memorabilia.

Here are some places to consider:

SYDNEY AND MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

The bulk of the Sydney Games in 2000 took place at Sydney Olympic Park, a short train ride from the city's center.

The opening and closing ceremonies were held in what is now ANZ Stadium. As part of the tour, you can pose for photos standing on a medal stand -- take your pick of gold, silver or bronze. An extended, pricier Gantry Tour takes you high above the field on steel mesh walkways used by crews to access lighting and sound equipment.

Track and field events also took place there, though the actual track used was rolled up like a carpet and moved to the warm-up area of the nearby Athletic Centre. (The main track at the Athletic Centre had been used for warm-up during the Olympics.) The Athletic Centre is open for recreational use when there isn't an event scheduled, with either the main or warm-up track open on a given day.

The Aquatic Centre has an Olympic-sized pool, naturally, open to the public for lap swimming. The diving competition also took place there. (You can walk by, but you can't use the diving pool.) Families may be more interested in the indoor water playground next to the Olympic warm-up pool.

After your swim, you can play tennis or try out archery at other venues around Olympic Park.

Melbourne hosted the Summer Olympics in 1956, but much of the main venue has been transformed since then. The tour of the Melbourne Cricket Ground offers more about cricket than the Olympic Games that took place there, but a sports museum has an extensive section on the Olympics. That's where you can see the cauldron where the Olympic flame burned during the Melbourne Games.

LAKE PLACID, N.Y.

About five hours north of New York City, Lake Placid hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. Several of the venues are still open for tours and recreational use, though some are operational only during the winter season.

Die-hard fans may want to ride the bobsled. It's the one used in competition, though you only get to ride part of it, with a professional escort. If you are brave, you also can ride the head-first skeleton run, though it wasn't an Olympic event during either of the Lake Placid Games.

While there, you can tour the Olympic Center, where the U.S. ice hockey team defeated the Soviets in what has become known as the "Miracle on Ice." You can skate in one of its indoor rinks. The outdoor speed-skating oval is open during the winter months and is the same one used by Mr. Heiden and other Olympic athletes in 1980.

A separate tour is available for the Olympic ski-jumping complex, and Whiteface Mountain is open for skiing during the winter. Lake Placid also hosts an Olympic museum downtown.

BERLIN AND MUNICH, GERMANY

Germany hosted two notorious games: The 1936 Berlin Olympics, which Adolf Hitler tried to turn into a showcase of Aryan supremacy, and the 1972 Munich Olympics, married by a hostage crisis that left 11 Israeli athletes dead.

You see the majestic Olympic Gate -- two towers holding up the Olympic rings -- as you approach Olympiastadion Berlin. Next to the stadium are the tower and parade grounds used by the Nazis for military and political ceremonies.

A tour takes you to the stands overlooking the track area where Owens and other athletes competed. You can see the unlit cauldron at one end of the stadium. You also can see the balcony from which Hitler watched the games, though it was shortened after World War II as part of de-Nazification efforts.

Sign up for the Berlin Marathon in September, and you may get to run on the track the morning before the race. It's not the original track surface, though.

Many of Munich's events took place at Olympiapark. The main stadium was used for the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field and soccer. With a tour, you get to walk on the track.

The tour also takes you to a VIP lounge filled with Olympic artifacts such as torches from past games and shoes worn by some of the athletes, including Kenya's Kipchoge Keino, who won gold in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 1972. A wall display of key moments includes a newspaper headline on the massacre.

The athletes' village where the terrorism acts took place is still around, used mostly for offices and housing these days. Visits are discouraged. Instead, check out a memorial at the Olympic park.

BEIJING, CHINA

Beijing's iconic "Bird's Nest" and "Water Cube" facilities are open to visitors. The National Stadium was the site of the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field events and soccer and is notable for its architecture -- steel "twigs" on the outside form a massive, curving nest.

The National Aquatics Center, where Michael Phelps won eight golds in 2008, is dubbed the Water Cube for its blue, bubblelike exterior. It's a water park these days.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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