Steve Smythe visited a new exhibition at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne which looks forward to the Rio Games

This summer, the world’s greatest athletes will compete in Brazil aiming for Olympic glory. To mark the Games of the XXXI Olympiad a new exhibition is open at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne until September 25.

Destination Rio is dedicated to the culture and flavour of the city and of Brazil, the host of the Olympic Games.

Lausanne is a lot easier and quicker to get to for Europeans but not necessarily a place on most tourist lists. It isn’t a big city, the population is around 125,000, but the museum is proud that its number of visitors each year is double the population of the city, beautifully set on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The Swiss city is host to one of the top Diamond League meetings and, apart from the museum, it also plays host to the International Olympic Committee’s main headquarters.

The interest in a separate Countdown to Rio exhibition (see below) may depend on your interest in art, but for a track and field fan with any Olympic interest the museum is a must-see.

Personally I’ve been to around 100 museums around the world and, while I do have a track and field background, this is the best designed and most interesting museum I’ve visited.

The idea for the museum came from the modern Olympics founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin and the building used is his former residence and the headquarters of the IOC from 1929-1937. The beautifully designed museum in its superb setting opened in 1993 and has been constantly renovated and improved. The latest update in 2013 doubled the surface area.

The extra space enables the museum to breathe and, now modernised with state-of-the-art technology and multimedia tools, it enables you to go more in depth if the subject interests you, which it probably will.

Spiral Torch at Olympic Museum Arnaud MEYLAN

Around 1500 objects and 150 screens relive great Olympic moments and visitors are presented with a nice balance between the history of the ancient and modern Olympics and the spirit of the Olympics, as well as the free Destination to Rio exhibition.

The park surrounding the museum is worth a visit of its own, having 43 sculptures and even a 100m all-weather track sprint straight where a beam of light records your time.

The permanent exhibition is on three levels connected by a spiral ramp, respectively entitled ‘Olympic World’, ‘Olympic Games’ and ‘Olympic Spirit’.

Olympic World starts with the historical origins of the Games with the Temple of Zeus and the city of Olympia reproduced in 3D. An area devoted to Coubertin has audio-visual equipment explaining his vision and motivations in the Nineteenth century.

Coubertin was keen there should be an artistic dimension as well as a sporting one to the Games, thus he would surely approve of the area devoted to torches, posters and ceremony costumes.

The Olympic Games level contains a lot of equipment such as Jesse Owens’, Lasse Viren’s and Dick Fosbury’s spikes and Chris Boardman’s winning bike from 1992, as well as shoes and bikes from the first Games. The Olympic Spirit section brings the visitor to the Olympic Village and has details of athletes’ training methods and nutritional information. Interactive exercises enable visitors to test their balance in curling or shooting and the visit ends with a look at the 59 different medals used from 1896-2012.

Despite the great amount of space, many more photos and artefacts have to be kept locked away in vast basement areas for exhibition on a rotation basis.

Next to the museum is the Olympic Studies Centre (OSC), which has more than 26,000 printed and electronic titles relating to Olympism, the Olympic Games and sports within the Games.

The website gives access to the reference documents and publications available online.

Included in documents hidden away in the basement of the OSC are those relating to original Olympic host bids that can’t be released until 20 years after the date.

As an example, Atlanta’s 1996 official documents become available this year. Coubertin kept all his original documents, most from more than a century ago. This included his original letter with the first publication of the Olympic rings from 1913.

He liked keeping records. He kept every invitation to any event he ever received and in the beautifully-kept album he listed every other person at the event too!

The exhibition at the museum will be of interest to all sports fans.


The museum dons the colours of Brazil for seven months and the expo showcases Brazilian culture’s diversity, exuberance and energy as it hosts programmes and exhibitions from contemporary carioca artists, a carnival showcasing a famous samba school, European premieres for Brazilian fims and the European capoeira championships.

Rio Art

The museum announced the exhibition early in February at the beginning of the carnival season in Rio, which will reach its peak during the two weeks of the Olympic Games in August. Destination Rio is a free-of-charge exhibition, although entrance fees for the museum itself will remain for the permanent exhibition.

The body in movement, a key element of Brazilian culture, is at the heart of the exhibition and it catches the colour and excitement of South America.

Some of the several artists used have not exhibited their work outside South America before.

I particularly appreciated the work of Alex Flemming. He mixes strong metallic colours and his paintings on giant canvasses take months to complete. Though Brazilian-born, he now lives in Berlin and was moved by David Bowie’s recent death as he went to his last concert in Berlin.

The flavour of Rio has elements throughout the Olympic Park and not just in the galleries. There are connections with Rio immediately outside the museum in the park, and even the museum’s restaurant has a menu fully devoted to Brazilian food.

The gallery’s exhibit shows the presentation of the Olympic Games in Rio through the organisation, the look of the Games, the sports on the programme, the athletes and elements such as the torch relay, the mascots and the medals, and also deals with the legacy that these games will have for the host city.

It won’t appeal to everyone but if you like colour, art and sport, and have an interest in South America, then Lausanne is well worth a visit.