Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa
Name: Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa
Address: Avenida 6 de Diciembre y Naciones Unidas, El Batan,
Quito – Ecuador
Last renovation: 2005
No, of seats: 40,948
% of stadium covered: 5%
Home teams: El Nacional, La Universidad Catolica, Deportivo Quito,
Ecuadorian national teams
Atahualpa – Ecuadorian Joy
The Olympic “Atahualpa” stadium rests on the Batan hill on a plateau to one side of a stretching valley. This is where Ecuador’s capital Quito majestically sits on its equatorial Andean mountain throne. For many, the name “Atahualpa” conjures up images of Incan emperors, princes and princesses, lost kingdoms and the mystical El Dorado. Even more reason then to baptise the country’s theatre of dreams with the name Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa.
This is the stadium where Ecuador’s football came of age on 7 November 2001 when, for the first time ever, this small South American country made history by qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan”‘. It was a dream come true for those privileged 40,000 spectators inside the stadium who were lucky enough to witness unimaginable scenes of joy and euphoria and who will one day be able to tell their grandchildren, first¬hand, the story of that afternoon’s events. The joy spread into the streets and cities of Ecuador as the country exploded with pride and cries of “Si se pudo” (“we did it”).
Four years later, against all the odds, the very same stadium witnessed similar scenes of ecstasy and wild celebrations as tiny Ecuador repeated the feat by joining the top 32 countries on the world’s greatest stage, the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, ahead of the likes of Colombia, Chile, Peru and two-time world champions Uruguay. You would think that such a feat would consecrate the Olimpico Atahualpa as the nations home stadium. However, regional differences and interests have historically seen the national team venue switched between the two main cities, Quito and Guayaquil (the birthplace of football in Ecuador), even though Guayaquil boasts a bigger and more modern stadium (Barcelona’s home stadium holds 80,000). Nevertheless, the Atahualpa has finally been baptised, unequivocally, as the “home” of the national team.
Bowl-shaped stadiums can be found in most countries in South America, the most famous of which being the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo, which was built for the 1930 FIFA World Cup™. This style of arena, with a moat and a running track surrounding the pitch, was inspired by the Berlin Olympic stadium’s architecture and the construction of the new football stadium in Quito was commissioned and financed by the municipality of Quito and built by the local construction company, Mena Atlas. The clearing of the land, originally occupied by grazing cows, began in May 1948. High up in the mountains at nearly 3,000 metres, the clearing and movement of earth and rock was a laborious and tedious procedure in an era when manpower was as intensive as construction equipment scarce in Ecuador. Over 1,400,000 man-hours were invested in the building of the stadium; 200 to 300 labourers were used at a time, working six-day weeks for almost two and a half years over an area of 14,000m2 before the stadium was inaugurated on 25 November 1951.
A FOGGY NIGHT
The opening of the stadium was marked with a four-team tournament in torrential rain between Cucuta Deportivo of Colombia, Boca Juniors from Argentina, Rio Guayas (the best Ecuadorian club at the time) and a regional XI representing the province of Pichincha. In those days, this part of Quito was open land far away from the city centre, but today it boasts some of the most expensive property around the built-up metropolis of Quito.
The original name of the stadium was Estadio Olimpico Municipal (“Municipal Olympic stadium”) and it remained that way for twelve years until 1963 when the local government in Quito decided to rename their sporting arenas after historical figures from the Incan era. For the football stadium, they chose Atahualpa, the last emperor of the Incan empire, and so the stadium became the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa.
Floodlights were installed on 30 December 1970 and the first game under them was a friendly between LDU of Quito and AJajuelense of Costa Rica. LDU triumphed 1-0 but so thick was the fog that the spectators present apparently missed most of the match.
SIX YEARS UNBEATEN
The next stage of construction work was completed in 1977 when the capacity was increased to 45,000, including standing areas. The stadium was most recently renovated in 1993 in preparation for the Copa America and the FIFA U-17 World Cup with financial support from the government. The VIP tribune and media areas were also improved, but the work reduced the capacity to today’s total of 40,948.
Football has long been the sporting passion of Ecuadorians and the World Cup dream has always been present, but ever since rejecting an invitation to play in the 1930 FIFA World Cup™ in Uruguay, and as much as they tried, qualification always seemed to escape them. It is easy to understand that living in the shadows of football giants such as Brazil and Argentina makes life very difficult.
Facing such football icons every four years in FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers makes it nigh-on impossible to establish unbroken or continuous unbeaten runs, but amazingly the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa became a fortress for Ecuador, who went six years unbeaten there. Surprisingly, it was not Brazil or Argentina who ended the run in the first game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers, but lowly Venezuela who became the first away team since Argentina in 2001 to triumph in Quito.