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Elite Athletes

The ribbon is cut on Colorado Springs’ newest museum: Olympians and Paralympians, celebrate!

The United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum, located just southwest of downtown Colorado Springs, opened to the public on July 30.

The United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum, located just southwest of downtown Colorado Springs, opened to the public on July 30.

At long last, Colorado Springs (aka Olympic City USA) has a national museum to celebrate and honor its country’s Olympians and hopefully to inspire future generations to make their indelible mark on the world’s biggest stage.

The new United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum certainly makes its mark. The New York Times, The Washington Post, Smithsonian magazine, and TripAdvisor, among others, are raving about the museum, a 60,000-square-foot masterpiece located just southwest of downtown “with the artifacts, media, and technology behind the athletes who make the United States proud” as stated on the organization’s website.

“The museum itself is part of the Olympic Museums Network, one of only 28 in the world and the only one in the U.S.,” says Tommy Schield, the museum’s director of marketing and communications. “We have a world-class museum, right here in Colorado Springs. Once people go through it, they’re blown away. I think we nailed it.”

Award-winning architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed the museum, which was nearly 10 years in the making after the initial meetings to discuss the concept took place in the summer of 2012. With its universal design and technology capabilities, the museum is one of the most accessible and interactive museums in the world. Thanks to RFID-powered technology, guests can customize their sport preferences and accessibility needs to create a truly unique experience.

“The museum is more than a sports museum,” says Christopher Liedel, the museum’s chief executive officer. “It is a museum of hopes and dreams. We think the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum will provide athletes and fans alike with a space to celebrate friendship, determination, and all the best values Team USA athletes embody.”

Made by the Athletes, for the Athletes

Upon entering the museum following a temperature check these days—and yes, face coverings are required—guests get a quick orientation in the lobby, most likely from an actual Olympic or Paralympic athlete. That sets the tone for the tour ahead.

That’s because the museum was, in part, made by the athletes to create the ultimate shrine to their achievements, and an Olympian was tasked with helping to mold the many athletes’ experiences into what the museum became. “My job evolved into really making sure we have the athletes at the forefront of what we do, to connect with them,” says Michelle Dusserre Farrell, a 1984 Olympic silver medalist in gymnastics and currently the museum’s vice president of athlete engagement. “In the end, it was about making sure we’re building relationships and trust in the most authoritative voice possible. We’re telling their stories.”

Throughout the tour, guests hear from Olympians, either firsthand or through voiceovers and other interactive content. It’s their stories and perspective that take this museum to another level.

Up, up, and away

The tour starts with an elevator ride that takes all guests to the top floor. From there, a ramped path gradually winds down to the main floor, creating a parallel visit experience on a journey through each of the 12 interactive galleries.

Each gallery uses cutting-edge technology to tell inspiring stories, and they include the Hall of Fame, Introduction to the Games, Athlete Training, The Lab, Parade of Nations, Summer Games, Winter Games, The World Watches, Medal Collection, a theater with the NBC-produced film titled To Take Part, Medal Ceremony, and a rotating gallery, which debuted with 100 works from legendary artist LeRoy Neiman.

One of the highlights is the Parade of Nations gallery, a 360°, multimedia experience that simulates what Olympians and Paralympians witness during the opening ceremonies. “That’s a big moment, walking into the stadium,” Schield says. “We worked closely with the athletes and learned how they felt when they experienced that moment. It was really cool, hearing from other athletes and seeing their reactions when they tour the museum.”

Of course, not all of these reactions prompt celebration and glory. Forty years ago, one Olympic team never got a chance to compete. The museum made sure to recognize those whose dreams were crushed by the boycott of the Moscow Summer Games in 1980. “Nowhere in the entire museum is a single team called out except the 1980 summer team,” Schield says. “We had 470 members on that team, and we have athletes who come through who want their picture in front of this exhibit. It’s probably the most moving theme for most athletes who go through it. It’s our tribute to them.”

Time to Take Action

The museum is open seven days a week (closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas), and in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the museum has taken extensive measures to provide a safe and contactless experience. In addition, guests are encouraged to purchase tickets online in advance. Admission is timed to maintain social distancing in the facility.

Connected to the museum is the official gift shop—ever tried on gear without using a changing room?—and Flame Café, which offers a seasonal menu and something for everyone. In early 2021, a 550-ton pedestrian bridge, spanning 250 feet, will be in place to connect the museum to America the Beautiful Park.

Time to come down. You’ll think they nailed it, too.