COLORADO SPRINGS — The massive United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum on South Sierra Madre Street in downtown Colorado Springs is set to open, for the first time, on Thursday, July 30.
The grand opening is a big deal for Olympic City USA, which, according to the city’s visitor’s bureau, is home to two headquarters for both the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committees, as well as 24 headquarters of National Governing Bodies of Sport.
Mayor John Suthers says the first ideas for a museum like this began in the 1980’s.
“We’re Olympic City USA and this puts the crowing achievement on that,” Mayor Suthers said.
Visit Colorado Springs also notes more than 10,000 athletes train at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, located a few miles east of downtown, each year.
The museum is a testament to those athletes with stories and biographies. There are even sections where visitors can have a virtual conversation, a product of hours of work answering thousands of questions from select athletes. It also recognized the best of the best.
“The Olympic Hall of fame has existed without a home, until now,” said John Naber. “Now, as a member of the hall of fame, I feel like this is where I belong. This is a place where the stories that inspire me and hopefully the stories that will inspire others can be told. They’re told in a beautiful and respectful manner.”
Naber is an Olympic swimmer winning four golds and silver medal in his performance in the 1976 Montreal summer games. He was inducted into the hall of fame in 1984.
“I believe that Olympians are not extraordinary people, but ordinary people who find a way to do extraordinary things,” Naber said. “If that’s not inspiration to every ordinary person in the world, I’m not sure what is.”
Naber said he hopes the museum will educate the public about the country’s Olympic athletes, highlight their achievements, serve as inspiration for everyone who takes in the various displays.
The museum offers several interactive features in its exhibits, including archery, skiing, and even a race against Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Games, in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, and the long jump.
“This is sort of an American history museum and sports is such an integral part of America. The Olympic movement covers about half of our time frame as a nation” said Chris Liebel, the CEO for the museum.
Liedel says exhibits focusing on the science of athletic training and the current installation showing art from LeRoy Neiman, who was the official artist for five Olympics, showcases the affect the Games have had outside of just the competition.”
“It’s a way for us to really look at these athletes who have really tried to reach human potential and it’s a way to bring hopes and dreams for young kids, whether that’s in sports or any other endeavor.” he said.
Suthers says the museum will be a global tourist attraction, standing it up against any museum in the country.
“This is going to be a transformative facility, not only for southwest downtown, but I think for the City of Colorado Springs.” Suthers said.
In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, museum staff members say they have been in continual contact with public health officials, and are doing everything possible to make the experience safe.
“It’s really the dream of a public health official of what they’re able to do to allow people to have this experience but do so in a really incredibly safe way,” Deputy Medical Director for El Paso County Public Health Dr. Leon Kelly said.
The timing is not ideal, Suthers and Naber say. But Naber points to the inspiration of the Games as something needed in the face of the global crisis.
“It’s a blending of the old and new cultures and the Olympic Movement is what brings the world together. One of the few things I can think of that brings the world together.” he said.
Tickets may be purchased online, ahead of opening day on Thursday.