In 1915, the Olympic headquarters moved from Paris to Lausanne, a peaceful stable place at a time when war was tearing Europe apart. It is still there today, on the shimmering shores of Lake Geneva.
Today’s picturesquely set modern International Olympic Committee (IOC) building contains a fascinating museum, spread over three levels, packed with detailed historical displays, such as one explaining the games’ links to the ancient Greek god Zeus.
Olympic artifacts, such as the Olympic torch that travelled to Beijing via the top of mount Everest, abound.
Many will be struck by a sense of how little they know about this iconic global event.
How many know that ancient Greek athletes competed naked, or that a French educationalist inspired by the British public school system restarted the event?
The exhibits show the Games’ very human side and how it brings diverse people together, even in times of conflict.
And it’s not all about winning. At the ancient Greek Olympics, cheats were fined and their names engraved under large bronze figures, creating a permanent public record of shame and deterrence.
Another display shows the swimming costume of Eric Moussambani. Moussambani holds the Olympic record for the slowest 100m freestyle – he learnt to swim a few months before the Games and had never seen an Olympic-sized pool before qualifying.
In addition to the permanent museum, there is a temporary exhibition entitled: Olympic Language – Exploring the Look of the Games. This explores the iconic symbols and design of the graphic imagery that we automatically associate with the world’s most well-known sporting competition.
Olympic graphic design has come a long way since the Olympic symbol representing the five continents first appeared hand sketched on a letter written by Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, in 1913 – you can see this letter in the main museum.
For the first time, this exhibition brings together 200 objects and 12 exclusive interviews with the designers. The presentation takes visitors through design time showing the mark various countries and their designers have left on Olympic graphic iconography.
The journey starts in Tokyo in 1964, before passing through Mexico City (1968), Munich (1972), Los Angeles (1984), Lillehammer (1994), Athens (2004) and London (2012).
Host country creativity created a unique identity for each edition of the Games, some of which has been carried forward. In 1964, Japanese designers invented pictogrammes representing each sport. Versions of these icons are still used today.
For the 1972 Munich Games, Otl Aicher, who also designed the Lufthansa logo, combined the colours of the Bavarian countryside to distinguish the Munich Games from the dark history surrounding the 1936 Berlin event.
A 12-metre multimedia wall presents a design timeline from the first modern Games in Paris (1900) to the latest in Rio (2016). After viewing this there is an emblem game to test your knowledge.
The nearby artlounge contains a sculpture of large brightly coloured spheres celebrating the 50th anniversary of the games in Mexico City in 1968.
This voyage of Olympic design surely follows the founder’s vision. In 1918 Coubertin wrote: “Olympism is not a system. It is a state of mind. The most widely divergent approaches can be accommodated in it, and no race or time can hold an exclusive monopoly on it.”
The exhibition also offers design activities (workshops, meeting with famous designers, special visits and more) on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 May 2018. More information on these is available here.
Entry into the Olympic Language exhibition is free. All material is presented in both English and French. Both the permanent museum and temporary exhibition are a great activity for families.
Where: The Olympic Museum
Address: Quai d’Ouchy 1, 1006 Lausanne.
Google Maps: location
Temporary exhibition dates: 10 May 2018 – 17 March 2019.
Times: typical museum opening hours are from 9am until 6pm.
Entry: The temporary exhibition is free. The permanent museum is CHF 18 for adults and CHF 16 for children (under 6 free). A family ticket costs CHF 40.
Website: Olympic museum
Time required: you could easily spend 2-3 hours in the main museum.