Paris 2024 Olympic Games: A sneak preview of picture postcard City of Light before the event

The occasion can be a matter of taste, but it remains the greatest sporting feast of all — and Paris will be no exception

The plan was to put off a long run last Sunday morning until late in the evening, when the softly dazzling sunset down along the river Seine offers its greatest luminosity. City of Light and all that jazz.

Then after being treated to Sunday oyster brunch at the Bastille Market (€6.50 for a bottle of Rosé) that plan changed, and the run was put off until Monday morning. Paris may be, as Hemingway observed, a moveable feast, but that didn’t mean risking those oysters moving anywhere suddenly again. Or indeed the Rosé.

It was cooler come Monday morning anyway, possibly quieter, and better timed, the chance to run right past, or in some cases right through, some of the iconic and historical landmarks that will feature as venues for the Paris Olympics in July. A day before the 100-days-to-go mark, time to get properly close-up and in person.

Setting out from the hotel, the Gard de Lyon was just around the corner, quickly followed by the adjacent Bercy Arena, the venue for the gymnastics and basketball finals. My run then went straight across the Pont d’Austerlitz on to the Left Bank, winding up towards the Pont Alexandre, where the triathlon will start and the cycling time trials finish, then past Les Invalides, venue for the archery events, and where the Olympic marathons will finish.


Then after passing the Eiffel Tower, the venue for beach volleyball, and Champs de Mars, the judo and wrestling venue, my route went across the Seine and back on to the Right Bank, passing Trocadéro, the finish for the cycling road race and athletics race walks.

Finally, it came back down past the Grand Palais, the venue for fencing and taekwondo, the Place de la Concorde, the venue for several events including skateboarding, then the Hôtel de Ville, where the marathons will start.

It says something about the beautiful proximity of these Paris venues that you can run past so many of them within a 10km route. And in doing so get a sort of sneak preview of the opening ceremony, which if you haven’t heard by now follows this similar route on Friday, July 26th, only on the river Seine itself, a large flotilla of boats, parading the 10,000 athletes from 208 participating nations, finishing at Trocadéro.

But it turns out this is becoming another sort of movable feast. Originally the Paris organisers planned for 600,000 spectators, including 100,000 ticket holders, but due to security concerns have now capped this at 222,000, almost all on an invite-only basis.

French president Emmanuel Macron also admitted for the first time this week they may have to move the ceremony altogether, should there be any sort of terrorist threat, with the Stade de France or Trocadéro possible dry-land alternatives.

“If we think there are risks, depending on our analysis of the context, we have fallback scenarios,” Macron said. “There are plans B and C and we are preparing them in parallel.”

There’s also a risk to the start of the triathlon at Pont Alexandre, given the not-so-clear water of the Seine. The 1.5km swimming leg is due to follow a 750m stretch out and back from Pont Alexandre, only that could be cancelled completely should adverse weather conditions further impact on E.coli levels, meaning the Olympic triathlon would be bike-run only.

“We can change the date and postpone from one day to three days until it’s okay,” said Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris organising committee, and a three-time Olympic canoeing champion. “And there is a final decision where we could not swim — it’s part of the rules of the International Federation. It’s what we want to avoid, of course.”

Paris is reportedly spending more than €1 billion to properly clean up the Seine for the first time in 100 years, when they last hosted the Olympics, but that still mightn’t save the 1.5km triathlon swim.

With around seven million visitors expected to pour into Europe’s already most densely populated city, one of the original promises of the successful Paris bid in 2017 was that “all ticket holders would have access to free travel on the entire public transport network in the Paris region on the day of the competition”.

Not any more: with the once lauded Paris metro in need of ample and constant repair, the cost of a single metro ticket during the Games will almost double to €4. With the anticipated high temperatures, the organisers are also promising 415km of new cycle lanes between the venues, creating perhaps a City of Sweat.

Opinion polls have been moving too: while there had been majority support for the Olympics, a survey conducted at the end of last month by the Viavoice group found that 57 per cent of Parisians surveyed expressed “little” or “no” enthusiasm for the event.

Then there’s that ultimate movable feast; the final cost. As with any Olympics, for now, that remains uncertain, with differing views on whether it will exceed initial estimates. The current costs are running at around €9 billion, but are expected to exceed €10 billion, still somewhat cheaper than Tokyo 2020 (€12 billion, according to Japan’s national auditor) Rio 2016 (€11.8 billion, more than half of which was spent on infrastructure), London 2012 (between €12 billion to €15 billion), and certainly far cheaper than Beijing 2008 (which soared to about €40 billion).

It wouldn’t be a proper Olympic countdown if there weren’t some fears like this. Tokyo, after all, also had to deal with Covid, Rio scared many off with the Zika virus, London’s transport was also reportedly creaking, and Beijing could never shake the stain that is China’s abuse of human rights.

Olympic moods are always changeable, however, and all of France could quickly fall for Paris if this week’s Gracenote Virtual Medal Table proves even partly true, which is predicting a sharp increase in France’s overall medal haul, up from 33 in Tokyo to 55, fourth best overall.

A large part of the Olympics is ultimately a matter of taste, but it is still the greatest sporting feast of all — and Paris will be no exception.