It’s no secret that I am wildly crazy about the Olympic Games. I watch minimal TV, but when it comes to the Olympics, I glue myself to the chair and am completely engrossed with the likes of curling, biathlon, high dive, high jump and any and every sport in between.
So when I found myself in the Olympic Museum of Lausanne, Switzerland, in September, I was ecstatic. Why is there an Olympic Museum in Lausanne? you might ask (just like I did). Well, it turns out that this hilly city on the coast of Lake Geneva is the home of the International Olympic Committee (not to mention 25 international sports federations). That’s like learning that Christmas will coincide with the 4th of July and the hot chocolate, hamburgers and apple pie being served will have no calories.
The Olympic Museum in Lausanne is the Olympic Museum. The grounds of the museum are beautifully manicured with statues relevant to the Olympics, the Olympic flame (!) and marked Olympic records (such as a pole indicating the highest high jump).
Inside, it’s a bit like the Hard Rock Cafe of athletic history, only with more class. The first exhibit is packed with historical memorabilia including a gold, silver and bronze medal from the Sydney Olympics that you can touch. There is also an entire display of all the Olympic medals from every Olympic game. One of my favorite displays is the one of the Olympic torches, which are remarkably different from each other and each has its own background and reason for looking the way it does. I know they have special segments about these things during the Olympic games on television, but actually seeing this kind of memorabilia so close and in person actually sort of choked me up a bit.
The second floor is packed with equipment, clothing and shoes used and worn by former Olympians. I was seriously giddy to be standing within inches of Shannon Miller’s leotard (I could have touched it because it wasn’t behind glass but I restrained myself), Michael Phelps’ swim pants, Carl Lewis’ shoes and Katarina Witt’s famous red ice skating costume.
The curators of the museum aren’t trying to fool anyone into thinking the Olympic games have a pristine history. There is a timeline that shows how world history has aligned with Olympic history, including the death of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team during the Munich games of 1972 and the 1980 Olympic boycott to the games in Moscow because of the country’s choice to invade Afghanistan (seems a bit ironic now, doesn’t it?). One section of the museum is also dedicated to the fight against doping.
Rotating exhibits also make an appearance at the museum. I wandered through Athletes and Science, which focused on the advances in technology and how that has changed the Olympic games. There was also a section on the chemistry of an athlete’s body, which invited guests to participate in experiments of memory, reaction time and other essential skills Olympic athletes need.
I highly recommend you rent an audio tour guide, which is offered in eight languages and costs 3.- CHF. There is so much to this museum, and the audio tour (which lasts about an hour and a half) helps point out the highlights while also noting some details that aren’t included in the item descriptions.
So how does all of this relate to travel? I obviously recommend you take the time to visit the museum if you’re ever in Lausanne, but, for me, there’s a deeper meaning to it. The point of the Olympics isn’t to set people against each other but rather unite people and countries. As stated on the audio tour: “To respect each other, they first have to learn about each other.” The same is true with traveling. Like the Olympic games, traveling gives us the opportunity to put real people behind a place. Being in Lausanne’s Olympic Museum made me feel like I, too, could have a piece of those games; that, even though I’m far removed from any form of athletic prowess, I could touch and feel the power of that unity and passion.
It’s a powerful place. Check it out if you get the chance.
Open every day from 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. April 1 through October 31.
Open Tuesday-Sunday from 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. November 1 through March 31. Closed on Mondays November-March.
The museum is closed on the December 25 and January 1. Open on Easter Monday.
Full rate for adults 17 and older is 15.- CHF. Discounts given for children 16 and under, seniors, students, unemployed, those with disabilities and those in the Swiss military.
My visit to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne was sponsored by the Switzerland Tourism Board, but all opinions in this piece are my own.