Late last year I was invited, along with other media, to experience the Olympic Capital of the World — Lausanne, Switzerland. Home of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Museum, we received tours of both locations and I must say, it was pretty neat to see “Vancouver 2010” plastered on banners, within artwork, and on signs around both venues.
The ancient Olympic Games were held every four years in the Greek city of Olympia, in the Kingdom of Elis, from 776 BCE through either 261 or 393 AD (source: wiki). After a 1500-year hiatus the Olympics as we know them were re-introduced and re-envisioned by Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France (this explains why French is spoken during Olympic ceremonies as well). In 1894 Pierre de Coubertin, after creating a national association for athletics in France, founded the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC is the governing body of the Olympic Movement as defined by the Olympic Charter. He wasn’t the first person to have the idea of the modern Olympic Games, but he was the first to found the Three Pillars (sport, culture, environment) and make it an international event.
Demetrius Vikelas of Greece was the first President of the IOC in 1894, and the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896. The second Games in 1900 were held in Paris, France. The Winter Olympics were not introduced until 1924 in Chamonix and until that point figure skating and ice hockey had been events at the Summer Games (source: wiki). The Winter and Summer Games were then held within the same year until 1992.
If you get the chance to visit Switzerland, you should try to make it to Lausanne and definitely check out the Olympic Museum. I’m a sucker for museums in general but the archival collection of athleticism over thousands of years, and throughout nations, in this single place is just impressive.
The exhibits begin with the Ancient Olympics and walk you through hundreds of years of sport and tradition. The modern Games may have been developed in France and have their headquarters in Switzerland however there is no shortage of tribute and respect for the Ancient Games of Greece in the museum.
The translation of the mantra Citius Altus Fortius is Faster, Higher, Stronger. Our guide told us that it doesn’t necessarily mean over your rivals, more so yourself — being the best that you can possibly be comes first. We saw ancient relics such as tools, golden wreaths, and pottery depictions of the games in which all participants were naked. As such, married women in ancient times were forbidden from being spectators of the Games.
Winners of events in ancient competition were considered demi-gods, crowned by Zeus himself. They wore wreaths made of Gold and were praised for possessing the ultimate balance of inner and outer beauty. Medals were an invention of the modern Olympics.
The Ancient Olympics were abolished in the year 393 AD because the Christian Emperor banned pagan festivals. Rumour has it that the Games continued unofficially in underground circles.
Moving on to the modern Games, the museum has a display with every single Olympic torch ever used. The torches start with the 1936 Games, which has the first torch relay from Olympia to the venue in Berlin.
Unfortunately one thing Baron de Coubertin did not believe in was that women belonged in sports. In the second modern Games in Paris however, they were allowed to compete only in tennis and golf.
Smith and Carlos at the 1986 Games in Mexico were featured in a photo (but not the legendary photo of them of them on the podium saluting the civil rights movement). Additional exhibits included an explanation of Olympic funding, highlights from each host City over the years, and symbols explained.
According to our guide, the individual event icons (like the ones in the photo below) get more abstract each year. He made a comment about how Vancouver’s are a little too focused on artistic value and that it’s a bit hard to figure out what the depicted sports are supposed to be.
On our way up to visit the hall where Olympic-worn uniforms and equipment are displayed we spotted the lower room in the building, which is the AV archive for every Olympics ever recorded.
The two upstairs halls include one side for Summer Games and the other for Winter. Each features signed uniforms, shoes, shot puts, javelins, skates, hockey sticks and skis that have been donated by Olympians.
This is also where you’ll find the “wall of shame” where they note every single banned or prohibited substance. I forget now what was in the “Black Box” but I know it wasn’t good.
Once we were done touring through historic and modern archives, we went back down to the main level of the building which was mostly dedicated to Vancouver 2010. There was an entire room with a gallery of First Nations art called â€œChallenging Traditions: Contemporary First Nations Art of the Northwest Coastâ€ as well as a “Green Games” exhibit.
Outside the museum is an immense garden that weaves down to the street alongside Lake Geneva. Up on the hill there are hundreds of public art pieces that celebrate sport and athleticism.
Towering above all, on the highest point of the steps of the museum was a totem pole by Jim Hart.
The familiar scent of cedar filled my lungs and there among stone pillars and rushing fountains peering down at the lake, I felt so proud to be standing next to such a majestic piece that symbolized my home.
After the 2010 Games we’ll be looking towards London in 2012, Sochi in 2014, and Rio in 2016. The museum will swap out its exhibits on the main level to tribute each city yet the amazing achievements while the archives will maintain their collection of artifacts, both ancient and modern, that have left an indelible mark on sporting history.