Get in the spirit of the Olympic Games at Switzerland's Olympic Museum

This display deserves a gold medal

By Kae Lani Kennedy,

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

These are the words of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee. Inspired by the sportsmanship of the ancient Olympic Games, Coubertin along with representatives from 14 nations and 241 athletes held the first Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. That was 1896, and since then, the tradition has carried on for over a century.

The world gets to enjoy the Olympics every two years, but in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Olympics is part of the city’s identity. That's because Lausanne is home to the International Olympic Committee and has been recognized as the "Olympic Capital." Its volunteers work towards building a better world through sport, but also to educate and inspire visitors. 

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the Olympic movement is by touring the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. Located just beside Lake Geneva, this museum houses more than 10,000 artifacts and hours of interactive content highlighting some of the best moments during the Olympics. It’s hard to walk through this museum and not feel inspired.

To celebrate the upcoming Olympic Games, here are some of the museum’s most moving moments.

1. The Olympic Park

The Olympic Museum — Photo courtesy of CIO - Lydie Nesvadba

The journey through the Olympic Museum begins in the Olympic Park, a 8,000-square-meter outdoor area in front of the museum overlooking Lake Geneva and the Alps. The park contains artwork and sculptures that pay homage to the world of sport.

The park also includes elements that encourage guests to engage with sports. For instance, a 100-meter track allows visitors to compare their running time to that of the record-breaking Jamaican runner, Usain Bolt. 

2. Origins of the Olympic Games

Circa 490 B.C. art depicting a discus throw, javelin and race events — Photo courtesy of Comité International Olympique (CIO) / MEYLAN, Arnaud

The first artifacts visitors will see when entering the Olympic Museum are items depicting the original Olympic Games that were held in Olympia, Greece beginning in 776 B.C. The philosophical and historical origins of the Games gives guests a greater understanding of what inspired Coubertin to reinstate the Olympic tradition.

These ancient artifacts also provide context for the principles on which the modern Olympic Games were founded.

3. The first Olympics symbol

The Olympic Museum — Photo courtesy of Bunny Kennedy

The "Olympic Rings" flag was designed by Coubertin in 1912. Each of the rings represents the five continents that participate in the Olympics: Africa, Asia, America, Australia and Europe.  The six colors, including the background, incorporate at least one color that is represented on the flag of every country.  

The flag on display in The Olympic Museum debuted during the 7th Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium in 1920.

4. The torches

Olympic torches — Photo courtesy of Bunny Kennedy

The Olympic Museum has a room dedicated to housing all of the torches that have ever carried the Olympic flame as far back as 1936. Each torch is designed to represent not just the artist’s creativity, but the colors and symbolism of the country hosting the games.

Screens around this exhibit provide visitors with an interactive way to explore the history of each Olympic torch.

5. The stadiums

The Bird's Nest - Beijing Olympics 2008 — Photo courtesy of Bunny Kennedy

The stadiums that host the Olympic Games are as much of a celebration of design as the games are a celebration of sportsmanship. Guests can explore plans and models of Olympic stadiums past and present, including one of the game’s most stunning stadiums, The Bird’s Nest from Beijing’s 2008 Olympics.

6. Olympic fashion

Olympic fashion — Photo courtesy of Kae Lani

From the Opening Ceremony to each sporting event, fashion defines and expresses the uniqueness of the nations participating in the Olympics. The Olympic Museum has an entire hallway dedicated to a wide variety of outfits, some which were worn when records were broken.

7. Jesse Owens’ shoe

Jesse Owens' shoe — Photo courtesy of The Olympic Museum

One of the most valuable artifacts in the Olympic Museum is one of the shoes Jesse Owens wore during the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. During a time when nationalism was sweeping through Germany and Nazi power was on the rise, Owens – a black American sprinter – won four gold medals and set three world records. And he achieved all of that in these shoes.

8. Color television camera

Color television camera — Photo courtesy of Kae Lani

Broadcasting changed the Olympic Games, bringing the world of sports into homes across the world. Color television further revolutionized the experience. A color television camera used during the 1956 Winter Olympic Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy is the highlight of an exhibit that explores the impact of media and technology on the Olympics.

9. The Olympic medals

Olympic medals — Photo courtesy of Bunny Kennedy

Have you ever wondered what an Olympic medal looks like up close? The Olympic Museum has a room that houses every bronze, silver,and gold medal from every Olympic game dating back to the first modern Olympics of 1896. Each medal’s design is a unique representation of the year and location in which the games were held.

10. The 2012 Truce Wall

The Olympic Truce Wall of the Olympic Games in London 2012 — Photo courtesy of Kevin Lyons

One of the last exhibits you’ll see at the Olympic Museum is dedicated to what life is like in the Olympic Village. The experience of the Olympic Village is less about competition and more about the unification of cultures under peace and sportsmanship.

During the Olympic Games in London in 2012, the 193 UN Member States set up a wall for all Olympians to sign as a symbol of peace in the world – thanks to sport.