Fancy measuring up against the mighty Usain Bolt or hitting the track with your heart beating like a champion’s? The Olympic Museum helps visitors unlock the secrets of sporting success.
The museum in Lausanne, the hub of the Olympic movement, has been metamorphozed during a two-year shutdown and is due to reopen to the public next Saturday.
Lying on the shores of Lake Geneva, it is the mother ship of 25 Olympic museums scattered around the globe.
The 55 million Swiss francs (US$61.8 million) renovation has gone beyond the purely physical and technological, thoroughly rethinking the way the museum traces the history of Olympianism.
In a radical change from the previous chronological time-line, visitors will now be treated to thematic exhibits, starting with the ancient Greek Temple of Zeus in Olympus.
“We’re the museum of an idea, a culture and a philosophy called Olympianism. That doesn’t stop at pure competition or physical activity. It goes beyond sport,” the museum’s director Francis Gabet said.
Displayed like icons in the museum are master copies of all the medals of the modern Olympics, starting with the first edition in Athens in 1896, as well as every Olympic torch, first used in Berlin in 1936 in a return to the games’ ancient religious roots.
The 1936 Olympics are best known for the quartet of gold medals won by black US athlete Jessie Owens, whose powerful performances raised the hackles of Nazi Germany’s leader Adolf Hitler.
One of Owens’ golds was sold recently at auction for almost US$1.5 million and the museum dreamed of being able to put such a powerful sporting symbol on display.
“The question arose as to whether we should join the bidding race, but for us, a medal is priceless and there’s a risk of encouraging commercialism,” Gabet said.
A host of objects on exhibition in the museum are indelibly associated with gold.
They include the Carmen-style dress of German figure skater Katarina Witt, the retro-style skis of Frenchman Jean-Claude Killy, the outfit of Japanese gymnast Kohei Uchimura, and the fencing foil and kit of Germany’s Thomas Bach.
However, the museum does not seek to be a Hall of Fame of Olympians.
“We don’t set out to deny the existence of stars, but our aim is to help understand what lies behind the glitz,” Gabet said.
In the museum’s grounds, a 100m corridor enables visitors to appreciate the speed of Bolt, the world’s fastest man, with speeding shafts of light replicating his 9.58-second 100m world record.
Thanks to interactive displays, it is easy to imagine oneself as a champion parading at the Olympic Games opening ceremony, living in the Olympic Village and then emotionally entering the stadium.
“Time just isn’t the same when you’re in competition. For some, it slows down and for others, it speeds up. That’s what athletes call ‘getting into the zone,’ a mental state of hyperconcentration just before the starting pistol,” Gabet said.
Leaving the museum, visitors have a chance to reflect on the true words of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the French founding father of the modern Olympics, whose statue stands in front of the building.
“The important thing in life is not triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well,” he once said.