Photo: Jacqueline Kehoe

The New US Olympic & Paralympic Museum Honors Athleticism, Accessibility, and Big Dreams

by Jacqueline Kehoe Aug 5, 2020

The best museums in the United States often leave you feeling contemplative, awed, and inspired. Upon exiting Colorado Springs’ US Olympic & Paralympic Museum, you’ll leave feeling all those things — but most of all, you’ll leave feeling hopeful.

The high-tech, touch-free museum first opened on July 30, giving new life to the Colorado city’s title as “Olympic City USA.” The experience, however, starts in the parking lot: The 60,000-square-foot structure shimmers with over 9,000 anodized diamond-shaped aluminum panels, designed to give a sense of movement — like a discus thrower. And in between the cascading layers of silvery steel rises Pikes Peak, a juxtaposition begging for a photo op.

Inside, you walk into a 40-foot-tall atrium, where you can start programming your experience to take a unique tour. With your RFID-enabled visitor tag, you can generate content for your accessibility needs, and you can choose your favorite events and athletes; whenever you walk up to an interactive exhibit, your preferences will pop right up. Boxing, swimming, rhythm gymnastics, Trischa Zorn, Simone Biles — you name it.

You’ll then take an elevator up to the museum’s first gallery. From there, your experience will literally swirl downward slowly. The museum is among the most accessible museums in the world — ramps connect every gallery, exhibits are at wheelchair-height, and visual displays can be adjusted for sensory needs. As for content, the Paralympics are on par with the Olympics, ensuring that everyone walks away with an understanding that both events are worthy of awe and admiration.

The 12 galleries mirror an athlete’s journey, from training to medaling. You’ll be able to race Jesse Owens, walk into a virtual Parade of Nations, virtually downhill ski, wave your hands to manipulate screens like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, be able to “Ask an Athlete” their favorite pizza toppings via AI. Even better, you’ll be able to ask a real athlete: Many of the staff are former Olympians, Paralympians, or hopefuls. From staff to exhibit design to voiceovers, the museum tapped into the knowledge of world-class athletes at every turn. Make conversation with whoever you can — they might have experienced the Parade of Nations firsthand.

The final 10-minute film, To Take Part, commemorates the best moments of Team USA, a veritable highlight reel of human emotion and physical success. It also wraps up what makes this museum so impactful: It puts everyone on the same team. It’s the story of humans breaking down barriers, breaking records, and striving to achieve their best. As you wander through the exhibits, you root for the athletes. You marvel at what they’re capable of. You find out where they’re from, their shoe size, their struggles — you get a chance to view them as your peer. You walk away drenched in a long-standing global event where countries cooperate together and take part in the same dream. Maybe it’ll inspire you to run a marathon, maybe it’ll inspire you to watch more curling, maybe it’ll just inspire you to visit more museums. But it will inspire you and, in this strange time, leave you feeling hopeful.

Where: 200 S. Sierra Madre Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80903

Entry fee: Tickets are $25.95 for adults; $14.95 for ages 3 to 12. The museum only accepts Visa; cash not accepted. Open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

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