In It To Win It: The Triumphs and Accolades at Lausanne's Olympic Museum

We have all stood there, at the start of something new, with the adventure beckoning and the excitement literally pounding in our chest. But there are only a few of us who have placed their feet behind the starting line at an Olympic event - and even fewer who have made it past the finish line.

Image: The Olympic Park, Copyright CIO - Lydie Nesvadba

Home of the Olympians

Every fourth year, 205 Olympic Committees send their athletes to the most sought-after sports event in the world – The Olympic Games. Years of training, physical and emotional endurance, and expectations are packed into bodies of human steel, while mental concentration is primed to its finest, with all eyes on the end result: Winning that gold medal plaque. This is where the elite of sports get together; where the world watches, gasps and cheers, where each proud nation unites and every athlete thrives. All are gathered to compete, or rather - to win, and only win. If you've ever wanted to sample even a taste of that winning spirit, it might be time to put Lausanne, Swizerland, in your travel plans: Headquarters to the International Olympic Committee, the city is also home to The Olympic Museum. Here, not only can you explore the history of the Games in depth - it is the largest archive of Olympic Games in the world, with more than 1500 artifacts and 150 screens featured - but there is also plenty of room in which to explore the extraordinary performances by top sporting figures and athletes from around the globe, while also paying homage to the people playing other essential roles in the creation and running of the Games, from its creators, architects, volunteers, and more.

Facing Lake Leman (also known as Lake Geneva) with the mesmerizing snow-covered Alps in the distance, the museum's beautifully manicured gardens (stretching over 8000m2) are home to many art installations and exhibits of sporting triumphs. The beautiful art displays, all interlinked with the common factor of sports, are absolutely worth a stroll through the greenery. The steps up to the museum are inscribed with the years and names of the athletes who had lit up the Olympic flame at the opening ceremonies since 1936, while the eternal Olympic flame poised at the entrance of the museum is lit each day at midday, to keep the flame and spirit of the Games alive. And for those who unofficially would like to try to beat an official World Record holder, they can. Plenty have tried racing against record times on the lawns of the museum, where a 100m athlete's track highlights, almost quite literally, Usain Bolt’s 2009 World Record sprint - and all would-be conquerors have yet to succeed.

Image: The Olympic Museum, Copyright CIO

Image: The Olympic Museum, Copyright CIO - Lydie Nesvadba

History in the Making

The Olympic Museum opened its doors on June 23, 1993, as a long awaited dream of Pierre de Couberton, who was the founder of the modern Olympic Games. Then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samarach inaugurated the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. Twenty years later, after going through an intensive renovation of almost 23 months, the museum reopened under supervision of then-IOC President Jacques Rogge, who decided to develop an ambitious project in its entirety, in line with its mission to be an international influence - and to transmit the Olympic values beyond the celebration of the Games and competitions. The museum - which had been named European Museum of the Year in 1995 - underwent 23 months of renovation between 2012 to 2013, before finally reopening its doors with renewed vigour (and an 1,000m2 of space) in December 2013. It features a permanent exhibition space while also playing host to travelling exhibits, and it also boasts a café wherein visitors can enjoy brunch during weekends, while enjoying its stunning panoramic views of Lake Geneva and its surrounding mountains.

Inside the museum, it clear that it is, above all, an accolade to sport itself, and the competitive value of sportsmanship. Its original founder, Pierre de Coubertin - who created the Olympic Games as we know them today - is still very present in spirit. The ‘Olympism’ life philosophy - exalting and combining a balanced whole of body, will and mind - is felt throughout. The museum showcases stadium builds from the olden days through to the latest achievements, along with fascinating stories of these bidding processes, and what goes on behind the scenes. A whole section is dedicated to the past and present of the architectural feats, and explores the road that one must take to become an Olympian competitor.

Image: The Olympic Museum, Copyright CIO

Times Change

The very first versions of the Olympic Games were held at the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia in Ancient Greece in around 776BC, as religious and athletic festivals. It wasn't until the 1800s that the Games began to take their form as we know it, with the foundation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and, following that, the first Games held under their patronage hosted at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens in 1896. At the time, only 14 nations and 241 athletes took part. At the first Winter Olympic Games (then known as "Winter Sports Week") in 1924, only 16 nations competed. At the 2016 Summer Olympic Games held in Rio di Janeiro, Brazil - the first-ever Olympic Games to be held in South America - 11,000 athletes from 205 National Olympic Committees took part. At the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea - which took place this past February, and was the first time South Korea had hosted the Winter Olympics - a record-breaking more than 90 countries competed.

In the days of worshipping Zeus, only men were allowed to compete and be present in the arenas, and only a select few virgins were permitted to enter to sacred sports events, with the exception of the horse owners. The Olympic rule was this: The owners of the racing horses were needed to keep their horses calm – thus many women decided to become owners of competing horses, simply to be able to take a glimpse of the Olympian athletes. It was only in 1900, at the Paris Games, when women had begun competing for the fist time, where they battled it out for medals in lawn tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian, and golf. Yet they still weren't well-represented. It took seven more Olympic games before gymnastics and athletics debuted, with a strong chance for representation and competition for women. In 1990, the first-ever woman was elected to the IOC Executive Board, and by 1991, the IOC released a historic decision mandating that any new sport seeking to be included on the Olympic programme had to include women's events. The percentage of women taking part in the Games continues to rise each year, with 45% taking part in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, and 40.3% having taken part in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

The Olympic story continues through a timeline of events and changes, and the addition of members, sports and events have made the Olympic Games a showcase of sportsmanship as well as an illustration of the forward-thinking social aspects of the sports, aptitude and even cultural awareness. At the Olympic Museum, this makes for a range of excellent interactive games and impressions, where visitors can try aspects of sports, be within reach of Olympic medals, and sportswear – which includes anything from out-of-date tennis rackets and worn-down running shoes, to some swimming trunks that belonged to the most decorated Olympian of all time: Michael Phelps.

Image: The Olympic Museum, Copyright CIO - Lydie Nesvadba

Image: The Olympic Museum, Copyright CIO - Lydie Nesvadba

From Refugee to Olympian

When the first Olympics of its kind started, the most prominent warriors and athletes were requested to compete in Olympia, and received complete immunity to travel to Greece from around Europe. These warriors, gladiators and athletes received a token to travel freely through wars, crusades, hunger and danger. Last summer, the first-ever refugee team was presented by the IOC, and even though they encountered an entirely different path to that of their host country, they marched the grounds of the Rio 2016 Olympics with a greatness and warrior spirit that the Olympic family can be proud of, and is known for. This program was presented in 2015 by the United Nations, where through a collaborative process between the IOC, the National Olympic Committees, the International Federations and the UN’s refugee agency HCR, athletes with refugee status and the talent to compete at Olympic level were identified. The ten members of the team were chosen from 43 candidates shortlisted from almost 1,000 potential refugee competitors.

The Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, is a true homage to the power of sport and its place in our world, and it inspires every visitor into feeling part of that core Olympic philosophy throughout every exhibit. Whether you're inspired by the sports-dedicated art, the immense history of the Olympic Games throughout the centuries, or simply there to satisfy your touristic curiosity, it's a venue that can inspire us all, from the sportsmen and athletes among us to the casual passer-by. Just don't forget to wear your running shoes during your visit - just in case.

Image: The Olympic Museum, Copyright CIO

Image: The Olympic Museum, Statue Pierre de Coubertin, Copyright CIO - IOC - Christophe Moratal

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