Recent decades have seen an increased interest from the world's major cities to bid for international sporting events and to use them as agents for urban transformation. In this paper the particular focus is that of urban development driven by the preparation for the Olympic Summer Games. Starting with Coubertin's utopian concept for the creation of a ‘modern Olympia’, Olympic urbanization has been developing for over a century. The result is that in various cities with often diverse urban patterns and cultures, the Games have left very different impacts on the local environment. This paper outlines the history and changes in urbanization within those cities that have acted as hosts during the modern Olympic period (1896–2012). It also discusses key factors in connection with the creation of a successful Olympic urban scheme. The evaluations of success are based on empirical investigations and analysis.