U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum Opens

(ATR) The opening ceremony in Colorado Springs replaces some typical pomp and circumstance with polite social distancing.

(ATR) In a ceremony replacing some typical pomp and circumstance with polite social distancing, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM) officially opened to the public Thursday in Colorado Springs.

Beneath the facemasks, it seemed attendees were all smiles for an event more than eight years in the making.

"This museum will be an international destination for travelers," said Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers in a pre-ceremony interview. "I think in the future when people think of [our city], they will want to visit our natural attractions and [USOPM] will be the No. 1 man-made attraction they experience in Colorado Springs."

Longtime home to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and training center, Colorado Springs has the unique distinction as "Olympic City USA" and the location for nearly 25 of Team USA’s national governing bodies.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis joined Suthers, Olympic gold medalist Benita Fitzgerald Mosley and Paralympic silver medalist John Register in remarks for a few dozen invited VIPs before taking turns with giant gold scissors to snip blue, yellow, black, green and red ribbons.

By afternoon’s end, more than 350 ticketed or annual membership visitors toured the three-level complex, exploring 12 galleries (about 60,000 square feet) featuring 460 artifacts, over 8,600 panels, dozens of interactive kiosks or other hands-on activities.

Through informal conversations, attendees shared universal praise for the museum’s experience-opening display of 40 torches spanning 1936 to 2020, and the venue’s final exhibit inclusive of 200 Olympic medals. Other Olympic and Paralympic medals, diplomas, credentials, uniforms, game-used equipment, personal journals and other keepsakes also appear throughout the experience, which permits visitors to explore at their own pace. Special attention was given to provide accessibility and interactivity for all.

For each traditional display, visitors also engage through personalized radio frequency identification (RFID) credentials. Each electronic ticket to the museum – worn with a USOPM lanyard – includes a user-assigned QR code that activates automatically as guests approach displays or activities. Visitors also receive a museum-branded stylus for use with touch screens in dozens of locations, starting with a floor-to-ceiling series of U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame digital kiosks.

From the lobby atrium, guests ascend three levels inside a glass-walled elevator featuring panoramic views of nearby Pikes Peak, the region’s highest mountain. Steps off the lift, Paralympic and Olympic history feature prominently through all of the galleries and activities. The most interactive space for all ages is an "Athlete Training" section in which visitors may test their physical and mental skills at archery, athletics, alpine skiing, skeleton, goalball and sled hockey. Additionally, as with other interactive stops, the user experiences are archived to an electronic "locker" later available for online viewing through the museum website USOPM.org.

Team USA athletes appear in video and interactive elements at many stages, notably in a section named "The Lab". Olympian Edwin Moses, for instance, narrates a section in regards to anti-doping regulations in elite sports, and Eric Heiden – who became a physician following his gold medal feats at Lake Placid 1980 – describes the physiology of high performance sport.

The history, engineering and technology behind sports equipment also comes to life, especially through a clear-screen video series centered on Michael Johnson’s custom-designed gold shoes created for his Atlanta 1996 competitions. Guests also experience a simulated athlete stadium portal march into the opening ceremonies and view a 10-minute short film produced by NBC highlighting the emotional valleys and peaks experienced by Team USA athletes.

While the museum includes hundreds of very specific details, some displays paint broader strokes while acknowledging challenges for the Olympic Movement and Olympism. Olympian Avery Brundage’s controversial decisions related to preventing a boycott of the 1936 Games, for instance, are touched delicately in the IOC president’s Hall of Fame bio and a wall-sized timeline of Olympic milestones presented with the context of world events.

The same timeline touches on Olympic boycotts, following a separate wall acknowledging the 1980 U.S. Olympians who missed the Moscow Games. On the main timeline, some of the U.S.-hosted Olympiads are briefly described, followed by mentions of LGBTQ-centered topics and doping at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, as well as the more recent scandal that touched the lives of hundreds of U.S. gymnasts. This section of the museum also dedicates a wall and glass case of keepsakes contributed by family members for one of the Israeli athlete victims at the Munich 1972 Games, but no mention of terrorism at the Atlanta 1996 Games nor the event’s "largest peacetime gathering" status as the Centennial Olympic host.

On a lighter note, a neighboring display features a Sam the Olympic Eagle mascot costume from Los Angeles 1984, and every breakfast cereal box that celebrated U.S. Olympian achievements.

The museum includes a handful of site-specific works of art including a bronze sculpture titled "Olympus Within" created by Olympic fencer and artist Peter Schifrin for the main lobby entry. The museum’s debut "Art of the Olympian" exhibition space features dozens of original paintings and sketches by American artist LeRoy Neiman (1921-2012), who was designated an official artist at five Olympic Games. After viewing his works and one of the artist’s studio easels, visitors can strike an athletic pose to create a digital "Neimanized" image.

The USOPM includes a modest event and meeting space featuring one side of the Lake Placid "Miracle On Ice" ice hockey scoreboard, as well as a nearby dining area named Flame Café, serving a seasonal menu and light breakfast or lunch fare.

"So many museums are static. USOPC has fantastic displays but then you’ve got these incredible, highly technological and interactive elements, like walking in the ceremonies or trying out sports, and the film is incredibly inspiring," said Suthers of his favorite USOPM elements.

USOPM tickets are priced $19.95 to $24.95 with memberships starting at $99. The museum is open weekdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with more information available at USOPM.org.

Written and reported by Nicholas Wolaver in Colorado Springs for Around the Rings

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