The Olympic Museum Lausanne: The Athletic Heartbeat of the City

by Natalie Halt

October 14, 2022

The Olympic Museum here in Lausanne is by far one of the most iconic and inspiring museums boasting incredible displays of unity, motivation, diversity and of course, Olympism. Whether you're visiting or a resident of Lausanne, this museum should be on your list to (re)visit.

If you have ever searched, “What to Do When Visiting Lausanne”- insert “with kids,” “on a rainy day,” or even “Top 5”- The Olympic Museum will be in your results every time. Easily considered one of the most quintessential things to do when visiting our beautiful athletic city, even the non-sports fans out there will love it, and for good reason. Not only does the epic view rival any in town, this state of the art museum is in constant rotation as a result of the ongoing gathering of stories, artefacts, relics, memorabilia, and any other minute detail that may be related to each Olympics over the years.

The Olympic Museum: The Evolution of the Collection

Lausanne was designated the Olympic capital in 1915 and is now the reference worldwide for all things “Olympic.” Pierre Coubertin relocated the IOC from Paris that year and it was decided that a museum would house the immense collections of knowledge and content from each Games. You will find other “Olympic Museums” (32 to be exact) but ours is the most extensive and “universal.” The museum is dedicated to preserving and protecting what has taken place by storing all donations and findings from these “heritage hunts” in the Olympic Studies Center that is housed on the premises. There is a strong emphasis placed on education, and for that reason, schools and students are always welcome to the museum free of charge to encourage the sharing of knowledge.

olympic museum

What is Olympism and How Does it Apply to The Olympic Museum and Lausanne?

The museum was built on a philosophy defined by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as “Olympism.” This idea is one that understandably embodies sport, but also comprises citizenship, camaraderie, quality, inclusion, fairness, and unity.

Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”

The city of Lausanne and its citizens take sports and fitness to another level, and it is for that reason that it is so fitting that we are designated “The Olympic Capital” of the world. Sports are an integral part of Lausannois life, no doubt. The museum is the essence of the Games and for Lausanne, it is in some ways its very pulse as an embodiment of qualities that our dear city holds in high Swiss esteem. Not to mention in alignment with our other nickname, “Best Legs in Switzerland,” thanks to all the steep hills!


The Emotional Impact of TOM

The intersection of geo-political history and activism, architecture and art, beauty and the human form, and the evolution of sports are all components of a TOM experience. The introduction to the museum takes you back to Antiquity, the bodies of athletes the purest form of physical human expression at that time. It is here that we are introduced to the ancient Greek symbolism of the sacred flame and the earliest versions of the Games. You wind down the spiraled walkway surround-sounded with live recordings of past events. The facial expressions of the athletes’ immediate indicators of their success or disappointment in that captured moment of glory or defeat.

What is perhaps most prolific about this place is that one arrives with an idea of what it means to visit one of Lausanne’s “top places to see,” and by the end of the experience is left with a different perception entirely. You simply cannot visit this museum without being deeply moved. I am brought to tears repeatedly, every single time I visit. It is the athlete’s stories, their dedication, perseverance, sacrifice, and literal blood sweat and tears infused in the wallpaper of this amazing place that get me. It truly is a shrine to all who have gone before and a prayer for all who are yet to come.

How the Games Exceed Far Beyond Sport

Of course, we know we will learn about sports (and we do with the over 1500 exhibits on display,) but what really sticks is something so much more profound. Housed within the walls of this 3,000 square meter modern building is the memory of every single athlete that ever competed in a Games. And the wish of every athlete that ever wanted to, me included. The story is so much bigger than sports itself. It is the cultural influence of every nation represented. It is the heritage of every city that has ever hosted. It is the beauty of the art and the architecture, and every iconic relic or artifact ever created in honor of the Games. It is the promise that every new Games carries with it in spirit as it goes on to host the next lineage of our greatest athletes of that time. It is the moment frozen in time where we see political representation shifts, fashion trends evolve, music, dance, artistic expression, every single detail in constant evolving flux with the times.


The Latest Must-See Temporary Exhibit: “Riding the Olympic Wave”

One of the most exciting parts of my most recent visit to TOM is the current temporary exhibit, “Riding the Olympic Wave.” There was a renewed focus on urban sports at the latest Games in Tokyo with six new sports: 3×3 Basketball, BMX Freestyle, breaking, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing. The alignment of each of these disciplines with videography, photography, graphic design street art, rap, and hip-hop is an intentional means to move from underground to mainstream. This is a perfect representation of the beauty that ensues when the sport is performance and one that is inclusive of inner-city athletes who may not have otherwise had the chance to participate in elite sport. It is civilization expanding, the goal of Olympism at its core.

10 good reasons to visit TOM