The medal-worthy U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum is opening in Colorado Springs.
When Dick Celeste left his position as president of Colorado College in 2012, he felt like getting involved in a new project that would elevate Colorado Springs. Previously, he’d been instrumental in the establishment of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame while governor of Ohio, and he knew all about the power of a global brand and how to get a big idea done. The project he set his sights on was the new U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum.
“I was stunned there wasn’t a proper celebration of the Olympic movement here,” Celeste, who now sits on the board as founding chairman, told USA Today on the occasion of the museum’s groundbreaking in June 2017. While there are more than 30 Olympic museums around the world, attempts to establish a major one in the United States had never materialized. That changes this year when the first full-fledged Olympic and Paralympic museum in the United States opens in Colorado Springs, well in time to celebrate on home soil during the rescheduled-to-2021 Tokyo 2020 Summer Games — or any time at all.
Colorado’s second city is, after all, Olympic City USA — home of both the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and the flagship U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. It’s a logical place to honor the ideals and document the history of the Olympic and Paralympic movements — and to share the impressive and inspiring stories of the nearly 13,000 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes who have competed for Team USA since 1896.
The 60,000-square-foot museum features 13 galleries, several special events areas, a 145-seat theater, and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame, which showcases inducted athletes, teams, coaches, and special contributors to the movements. As part of the immersive storytelling and programming, the museum displays a considerable — and growing — collection of artifacts, ranging from the monumental to the mundane: “From Bonnie Blair’s speed skates to Shannon Miller’s scrunchie, athletes are constantly sending us artifacts and memorabilia from their Games experience,” says director of marketing and communications Tommy Schield. “Nearly every day we get to work, it feels like Christmas.”
One of the best things on view is the “Miracle on Ice” scoreboard from the hockey match at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Winter Games that memorably saw the young underdog U.S. team, coached by Herb Brooks, come from behind to defeat the monolithic Soviets and ultimately take the gold. Vying with the scoreboard for most impactful and evocative is the impressive collection of Olympic torches, including one like the torch memorably carried by Muhammad Ali, who lit the Olympic cauldron during the Opening Ceremony at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
The design and construction team, led by the award-winning New York architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, created a sustainable and accessible complex, the concept of which seems to take for its inspiration the physical feats of athletes, “twisting and stretching centrifugally around an atrium space.” You’ll want to experience it for yourself, but Diller Scofidio + Renfro has supplied a nice description on its website: “Visitors ascend from the ground level atrium to the top of the building quickly and gradually spiral down through a sequence of loft galleries, moving back-and-forth from the introspective atrium to the building’s perimeter and views to the city and the mountains. The museum and the landscape are designed to form a new public plaza, nestling a distant view of Pikes Peak and an intersecting axis bridging downtown across the train tracks to the America the Beautiful Park to the west.”
In keeping with the Olympic and Paralympic ideals, the museum strives to deliver a shared experience for all visitors. “Sports have the power to unite,” Schield says, “and that’s what the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum has the ability to do.”
For more information on the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, visit usopm.org.
Photography: Images courtesy Yushiro Okamoto/Diller Scofidio + Renfro
From our July 2020 issue.