Pure Gold: The Olympic Museum in Switzerland
Are you familiar with Lausanne, Switzerland?
No? Up until recently – I wasn’t either. It was the first stop in our 7-day tour of Switzerland. I was even more surprised to learn that it was home to the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee!
The 2016 Rio Games had just ended as we began our exciting overland journey from Ireland to Cape Town, and the Games were still fresh in my mind. I’m a big fan, and despite last minute issues in the host country and concerns about NBC’s coverage, I thought that this year’s games and performances exceeded expectations.
I enjoyed following breakout stars Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky as they sprang into the international spotlight, watching Michael Phelps dominate in his final games, and I was heartbroken when Kerry Walsh Jennings lost her first (and final?) match in four Olympic Games.
So when I unexpectedly learned that Lausanne was home to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and that we would be visiting the Olympic Museum with a press pass, only a week after the Rio Games had ended, I was thrilled! And let me tell you – this museum did not disappoint!
If you find yourself on this side of the world, you definitely have to plan a trip!
LAUSANNE, THE OLYMPIC CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
How did this European city become the mecca of international sport?
We’ll start with a really quick history lesson.
In 1915, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who is credited with the revival of modern day Olympics , decided that Lausanne would be the base of the IOC. He chose Lausanne because of its close proximity to Lake Geneva, which he believed to be a peaceful and stable location during a time of war in Europe. In 1994, Lausanne was officially given the title of Olympic Capital, to celebrate the centenary of the creation of the IOC.
The Olympic affiliation has had a profound impact on the city over time, and its roots are apparent. Today, Lausanne is home to 50+ international sport federations and organizations, 50+ sports related companies, and over 1,500 people working in the sports industry. It hosts many world-class sporting events and you can find several well-known academic institutions.
When you exit the Metro at the Ouchy-Olympique stop, the last on the line, there are miniature figurines on the ceiling representing the 260 delegations from the Parade of Nations, in the same order that they appear during the opening ceremony (Greece is always first!). In the Place de la Navigation, there is large monument made of limestone with a clock that counts down to the start of the Games.
THE MUSEE OLYMPIQUE
The most exciting sports museum you’ve never heard of
The museum itself is stunning, located on prime real estate – 420 meters (this is not a coincidence – it’s the exact size of an Olympic stadium track) from the shores of Lake Geneva, with views of the Swiss Alps. It underwent extensive renovations before reopening in 2013 with twice the surface area and significantly modernized features.
The Museum is surrounded by an 8,000-meter park accessible to the public, complete with a 100-meter track, so you can test your speed against Usain Bolt, and a pole vault set up at Olympic record height. To access the museum entrance, you climb exactly 97 steps, each of which has the name of the previous torch bearers engraved on them. There is an Olympic flame that burns at all times.
Inside there are three permanent exhibition levels linked by an impressive spiral ramp. Each floor is unique and represents an essential dimension: the Olympic world, games, and spirit. Spread across these levels, there are over 1,500 objects, 5,000 photos, 7 hours of audio-visual documents, and 50 interactive screens.
I could have spent all day here!
Here were some of my favorite exhibits:
Historical medals and torches. There is a lot of awesome memorabilia on display, but two of my favorites showcased the gold, silver, and bronze medals (dating back to 1896) and torches from previous games (from 1936!).
I really liked watching the evolution over time, as well as how each country took a different, unique approach to its design. The torch from the Rio Games was there – and I even got the opportunity to hold it!
London 2012 Truce Wall. I didn’t know this, but since the 2000 Games in Sydney, there has been a “truce wall” located inside the Olympic Village. The tradition of the Olympic Truce, or “Ekecheiria”, dates back to the 9th century BC in Ancient Greece as a period during which war and conflict were halted to allow for safe travel to and from the ancient Olympic Games.
Athletes and officials show their support for the truce by signing the wall.
Your favorite memorabilia. There is a ton of awesome stuff on display (like the first Olympic Flag from 1913), but my favorite part was finding the equipment used by my favorite athletes! I ran track and cross country in college, so I think I was the only person there who got excited seeing track jerseys and spikes.
What would you most look forward to seeing?
Destination Rio. The Museum also set up a temporary exhibit that celebrates the Brazilian culture’s diversity, exuberance, and energy. It included a ton of information about the Games in Rio: history, candidature, essentials (medals, torch, relay and mascots), competition venues, sports on the programme, new sports, athletes, unusual details, etc.
What really caught my eye were sculptures of inflatable animals scattered over the Olympic Park. I later learned that they were specifically created by artist Felipe Barbosa to form a world of 10 “bichos” (i.e. 10 original sculptures) for the museum. Each represented a different zoomorphic tree, made from inflatable beach toys, which was meant to evoke the fauna of the Amazon and Tijuca forests.
And if you’re visiting on a particularly hot day – you can even dunk your head in the fountain outside 🙂
ITS MISSION: TO PROMOTE OLYMPISM
Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles. -Pierre De Coubertin.
While on our tour, I was reminded of what values the Olympics were meant to represent and the ideals upon which its foundation was built. And I think most folks (myself included!) forget about this very important concept. There is so much more to the Olympics than just winning, and I think this often gets lost somewhere behind the country total medal count and whatever the latest scandal.
The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating young people through sport played without discrimination and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. The opening ceremony and torch relay are meant to showcase the idea of sharing an ideal, and getting to know and understand each other better.
There are three main values enshrined in the Olympic charter, and the TOM website states it best:
- Excellence: Doing your utmost, on the track and in the pool, obviously, but also in daily life, with determination.
- Friendship: To build a peaceful world, transcending political, economic, racial or gender differences.
- Respect: For yourself and your body, but also for other people and for the rules.
At the end of the day, whether you win or lose, sharing the Olympic spirit is most important.
I think we would all be better off if we tried to embody the Olympic Spirit – so I challenge you to remember these lessons as you go about your busy week. And be sure to check out the Olympic Museum the next time you’re in Switzerland!