The world’s largest collection of Olympic torches and medals reside behind locked doors at U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in downtown Colorado Springs. Only donors, sponsors and Team USA members currently are allowed to view them.
But when the U.S. Olympic Museum opens in the spring of 2020, these remarkable artifacts will be on display for everyone to see.
The torches, which span Games from the 1936 Berlin Olympics to the 2018 PyeongChang competitions, were collected over 30 years by Olympics fan Gordy Crawford and donated to the USOC.
“We have 53 torches on display, but only about 42 will be at the museum,” USOC Archivist Teri Hedgpeth said. That’s because there are multiple torches from some of the games in the collection.
The torches will be housed in two cases in the museum. Nearby will be an exhibit of Crawford’s collection of medals from almost every Olympics since the modern games began in 1896 in Athens. Archivists are working to find the few medals that are missing.
Those artifacts, which will be lent to the museum, are one part of the Olympic story that will be told through exhibits, displays, galleries and state-of-the-art interactive technology.
“The content team continues to collect artifacts to make sure we have very rich content,” said Peter Maiurro, the museum’s interim chief operating officer. “Our tech partners are continuing to develop the impressive technology the museum will have and are making significant progress.”
A virtual journey
The exterior of the museum was inspired by athletic motions like a discus thrower would make, said Kathy Barrie of Barrie Projects, a Cleveland, Ohio firm that has helped conceptualize the museum’s design from the outset.
The firm is renowned for developing the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., and the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement (aka the Mob Museum) in Las Vegas.
Now Barrie is putting together the displays, exhibits and galleries that will wow visitors to the Olympic museum.
Inside, the museum will be just as dynamic as the outside.
Visitors will be greeted in the lobby, and the first thing they’ll see is the Hall of Fame. An interactive display will allow patrons to see where Olympic athletes trained or check their own city to find out which Olympians were born there.
“The museum unfolds like a journey — the same journey young athletes take,” Barrie said. “You’ll be put in their footsteps.”
Visitors will start at the top of the museum and proceed down in a circular fashion through a series of ramps. The design was inspired by a Paralympic athlete, who suggested the unusual routing to allow wheelchairs to traverse it easily. The museum will devote a lot of space to the Paralympic games, which were first held in 1960, and Paralympic competitors.
“You learn about the ancient games first,” Barrie said. “You’ll see the vision for the modern games; the U.S. entry into the games; the science, technology and training involved in being an Olympian — two galleries will be devoted to those.”
Farther along the path, one of the museum’s signature experiences will be the Parade of Nations.
“When we first began to plan how the exhibits would unfold, we sat down with 25 athletes, coaches and trainers and asked them what were the most significant, indelible images,” Barrie said. “To a person, they said walking in the Parade of Nations. So we’re going to do a very immersive film and sound experience so visitors will really have a sense of what it would feel like to walk in with the U.S. team. I think that’ll be something everybody will be talking about.”
Other galleries will focus on the Summer and Winter Games, and contemporary aspects of the Olympic movement such as how the games interact with their host cities.
A training area will demonstrate what every athlete goes through to reach the Olympics.
“You’ll get to try your hand at that” through interactive technology, Barrie said.
An area called The Lab will “show the kinds of improvements in research and development to give athletes that extra 1 percent advantage and show how these improvements benefit Paralympians and the general public,” she said. “You might see lightness of material, performance training techniques and how to improve the way an athlete can propel a bike.”
Other exhibits will focus on how the Olympics impact the world and how the world impacts the games.
“There will be exhibits on games that really stand out because they represent change,” Barrie said.
Those games include the 1968 Mexico City summer games, where black athletes staged a silent protest against discrimination and spawned the Olympic Project for Human Rights; and the 1973 games in Munich, marred by a terrorist attack that killed 11 members of the Israeli team.
“How the games impact society today will be looked at and discussed,” Barrie said. “We are very cognizant of safe sports, measures to protect athletes and give them a voice when they find themselves in compromising or dangerous situations.”
After completing the journey through the exhibits and galleries, visitors will be able to view an Olympic video in the theater. They will end the experience in the gift shop.
The museum is expected to draw visitors from all over the world.
“I think that additional tourism traffic will exist because of the Olympic Museum — hotels, additional room nights, restaurants, auto rentals and patronizing local businesses,” Maiurro said. “With expected attendance of more than 350,000 annually, we believe there will be significant economic activity and positive impacts on the business community and sales tax revenue.”
Maiurro said the museum’s indoor and outdoor special events spaces and boardroom will be available for use by community organizations and businesses.
“We believe special events we host for other organizations will be a significant part of our activity,” he said.
Storytelling through technology
Centre Screen, a Manchester U.K. firm, is developing technological applications from awe-inspiring, large-scale immersive installations to intuitive apps.
“Two of the main criteria at the heart of technical applications within the museum are powerful storytelling — how can we apply technology so that it is best placed to showcase the powerful stories, memorable events and achievements of Team USA and the Olympic and Paralympic movements; and accessible, inclusive experiences — how can we ensure that every visitor to the museum is engaged, informed and inspired by these stories, through the best use of technology,” said Hayley Walsh, projects and company director for Centre Screen.
The technology being developed and implemented includes mixed interactive experiences and radio-frequency identification personalization of the museum experience.
The interactive experiences will blend digital and physical activity, Walsh said. Visitors will be able to perform activities that capture their gestures and interaction with physical equipment.
RFID technology will let visitors customize their experience.
“This personalization enables the delivery of content and stories of particular interest to the visitor, whilst also offering full interactive exploration of the wealth of wider material on offer,” she said. “The RFID system being implemented here helps deliver this multi-faceted experience in a seamless and intuitive way.”
After initial registration of their RFID tag, visitors can navigate the museum at their own pace or join guided tours by museum team members. Preset accessibility preferences can be loaded and adjusted at each station to ensure visitors receive the optimal experience for their needs.
The tag also will capture the highlights and key moments of each visitor’s museum journey — activities they have taken part in, personalized souvenir takeaways and bookmarked content.
The museum team has developed technical approaches and solutions that can be experienced by individuals and visiting groups, schoolchildren and families as well.
“Interaction ranges from single-user touchscreen exploration to multi-user interactive walls, multi-player activities, gesture-sensing interactive projection, large-scale immersive AV projection and evocative soundscapes,” Walsh said.
Ground was broken on June 8 for the 60,000-square-foot museum, which will have 20,000 square feet of exhibit space, a café, broadcast studio and theater.
“At this stage, we are 60 to 65 percent complete in the construction phase and nearing 100 percent design,” Maiurro said.
The $75 million project is being financed by $26 million in City for Champions funding through the state Regional Tourism Act. Maiurro said more than $50 million has come from private donors, foundations and businesses.
A community-based fundraising campaign focused primarily on El Paso County is in the works.
“Smaller increment donors, from $100 to $10,000, we expect will be the vast majority of donors,” Maiurro said, adding the campaign will fund an operating endowment.
Partnerships with the state Office of Economic Development, city of Colorado Springs, El Paso County, the Urban Renewal Authority, USOC and “many private donors that have already committed resources have made this happen,” he said.
Physical construction is expected to be complete in May 2019. It will take several months after that to install the exhibits and technology.
“We will do some soft opening, donor appreciation and other events in late 2019, and fully open to the public in early 2020,” Maiurro said.
“This is the first time Americans will have the opportunity to learn about and understand the Olympic movement,” Hedgpeth said. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful experience.
“We desperately needed a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic museum. It will provide a lot of ‘I-never-knew-that’ moments. We hope visitors will come out not just educated but inspired.”