Sports

United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum opens in Colorado Springs – The Know

Addison Buehler, 14, left, and her brother, Brenden, 12, of Highlands Ranch, sprint down an interactive track on Oct. 15 at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs. Visitors can pick from eight Olympic and Paralympic athletes to run against in the interactive display. (Mark Reis, Special to The Denver Post)

In an uplifting video that completes a visitor’s journey through the new U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs — which calls itself Olympic City USA — swimmer Brad Snyder offers wisdom sure to resonate with dreamers and idealists in these troubled times.

“If you make a deliberate choice to look for the good in every situation,” Snyder says, “that’s what you’re going to see.”

If you go

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum, which opened July 30, is at 200 S. Sierra Madre St. in Colorado Springs. It is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets cost $24.95 for adults, $14.95 for children 3-12 and $19.95 for senior citizens. There is a dining area called The Flame Cafe, which sells pizza, sandwiches, breakfast burritos and sandwiches, salads and kids meals. The Olympic Training Center is 3 miles to the northeast, but tours aren’t being conducted there now because of COVID-19.

Snyder’s advice is all the more profound because he is a blind athlete speaking about vision metaphorically. Snyder became a two-time Paralympian and world record-holder after losing his eyesight in an IED explosion in Afghanistan while serving in the Navy.

Cynics will scoff, I’m sure, but stories like Snyder’s are what make the Winter and Summer Games so compelling for Olympics geeks. The world was deprived of stories like those this summer when the Tokyo Games were postponed due to COVID-19, but Olympics lovers can get their fill at this spectacular $90 million museum on the southwest fringe of downtown, which opened in July. (I spent two hours there and wished I’d had time to spend four.)

This museum belongs in Colorado Springs. Thousands of athletes cycle through the Olympic Training Center complex every year, many of them full-time residents. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has been headquartered there since 1978, and two-thirds of the national governing bodies for individual Olympic sports are in Colorado Springs.

This is a museum done right, with fascinating exhibits, remembrances of historic achievements, lots of fun memorabilia — including medals from every Olympics going back to the first modern Games in 1896 — and state-of-the-art interactive technology.

One of the first things visitors see when they enter is a 40-foot LED screen in an atrium that cycles brilliant images of Olympic athletes, including one of Mikaela Shiffrin, the Colorado skier who has been the world’s best alpine racer over the past four years. At kiosks nearby, visitors can browse bios of all 154 inductees in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame, including Coloradans Frank Shorter (two-time marathon medalist), Connie Carpenter-Phinney (cycling and speed skating), Scott Hamilton (figure skating gold medalist) and Amy Van Dyken (six-time medalist in swimming).

The next stop offers family-friendly interactive experiences that are well-placed to keep kids entertained. Visitors can race 20 meters or so against the animated image of an Olympic athlete. They can “race” giant slalom and skeleton (sledding) on video screens, controlling their dizzying virtual descents through body movements.

There’s an exhibit about the original Olympics from 776 B.C. to 393 A.D at ancient Olympia in Greece, plus a collection of Olympic torches from the modern Games, along with videos of torches being used to light Olympic cauldrons at opening ceremonies. Another memorable video is from Atlanta in 1996, when Muhammad Ali lit the cauldron while suffering tremors from Parkinson’s Disease.

Part of the collection of Olympic torches displayed at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs seen on Oct. 15. (Mark Reis, Special to The Denver Post)

The museum is chock full of Olympic uniforms and gear, with inspirational quotes throughout:

“The only real failure is the failure to get back up” (from Lindsey Vonn of Vail, four-time Olympian in ski racing, who had a career filled with historic accomplishments and epic crashes).
“I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match” (from three-time soccer Olympian Mia Hamm).
And this one from Todd Lodwick of Steamboat Springs, a six-time Olympian in Nordic combined skiing, on his reaction to being selected by teammates to be the U.S. flag bearer in the opening ceremonies at the 2014 Sochi Olympics: “It feels like I have already won a medal.”
There is also a poignant photo with a quote from Dan Jansen, a hard-luck speed skater from Wisconsin who fell twice at the 1988 Calgary Olympics while grieving the loss of his sister to leukemia. Jansen failed again to medal in 1992, but at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, he improbably took gold in his final Olympic race. “I remember standing on that podium,” he is quoted here as saying, “wishing our national anthem had more verses.”

Colorado is well-represented. There are autographed shoes that Boulder track athlete Emma Coburn wore at the 2016 Rio Olympics when she became the first American woman to medal in the steeplechase. There are also shoes worn and autographed by Jenny Simpson of Boulder, who became the first U.S. woman ever to medal in the 1,500-meter run at that same Olympics (although she tells me they are not the shoes she wore in that race).

Olympic medalist Jenny Simpson’s shoes from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games on display at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs seen on Oct. 15. (Mark Reis, Special to The Denver Post)

Also displayed are the Kastle skis that longtime Steamboat Springs resident Billy Kidd used in 1964 to claim the first-ever medal in skiing for an American man. It was the last year that racers used wooden skis with leather bindings.

The museum doesn’t ignore the darker sides of the Olympics. There is a display covering the use of performance-enhancing drugs, including a video of Boulder cyclist Tyler Hamilton talking about using them and confessing his wrongdoing. There is a reminder of the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, ordered by President Jimmy Carter in reaction to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

There is a memorial of the 1972 Munich Massacre when Palestinian terrorists took the Israeli Olympic team hostage. I fought back tears watching a video of real-time coverage by Jim McKay of ABC Sports as he told America: “There were 11 hostages. Two were killed in their rooms. Nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.”

The museum tour ends with that 10-minute video in which Snyder talks about vision, produced by NBC Sports and titled, “To Take Part.” It shows Olympians talking about their passion for the Games and hunger for competition. We hear gymnast Mary Lou Retton, the 1984 Olympic all-around champion, noting that she wasn’t tiny and slender like the typical gymnasts of her time. “I was strong, I was explosive, I was powerful,” Retton says. “I opened that door for gymnasts who were built like me.”

We see the parents of Denver’s Missy Franklin rejoice after watching her win one of her four gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics. And we hear Vonn’s tearful Olympic farewell at PyeongChang in 2018: “I wish I could keep going, you know? I had so much fun. I love what I do. I’m just proud, proud of giving it my all.”

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, The Adventurist, to get outdoors news sent straight to your inbox.

A huge video screen dominates the entrance lobby at United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum on Oct. 15 in Colorado Springs. (Mark Reis, Special to The Denver Post)

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *