In the midst of Team GB’s success at the London 2012 Games, it seems strange to take a history lesson about Olympics past. But an exhibit entitled “The Olympic Journey: The Story of The Games”, set in the grand surrounding of the Royal Opera House, is certainly worth the trip. The exhibit is free, but the queues on the weekends can be long, so it’s best to arrive early. The museum opens at 10am, and last entry is 6:15pm.
The exhibit’s first room explains the Ancient Games and how they were designed to unite ancient Greece through the famous “Olympic truce”. Athletes competed naked and spent plenty of time preparing themselves with oils for their performances!
As a loud voice welcomes you to the games in the second room, the figures come to life and you watch a very roughly fought chariot race where the cheater is disqualified. There you’ll find out that the ancient Games were banned at the end of the 4th Century by the Romans as they were considered a pagan festival.
Moving into room three you learn about the founder of the modern games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. De Coubertin took idea of the games which were held in Much Wenlock, England, since 1850, and developed the idea of an international modern Olympic Games, which he successfully launched in 1896 in Athens, Greece.
The Olympic torch and the relay began in 1936 for the Berlin Games, and room four has a wonderful display of past Olympic torches since then. There are plenty of fun facts about torch relays past as well. Did you know that for the Sydney Games, a torch was carried underwater at the Great Barrier Reef and by camel in the desert? The flame first went in an airplane in 1952 to get to Helsinki. And to get to Mexico in 1968, the flame journeyed by boat that followed the route Christopher Columbus took.
The fifth and final room has a great display of all the medals since 1896, and it’s clear to see the London 2012 ones are by far the biggest, especially compared with London 1908 which are about the size of a £2 coin. There are also displays of key athletes and their achievements with films and memorabilia such as their medals, tickets and the outfits they competed in. You can learn more about Fanny Blankers-Koen, the Flying Dutchwoman whose medal tally was only restricted by the rules banning women from competing in more than three individual events. And from more recent days, there is the famous Steve Redgrave video telling anyone who sees him getting in to a boat again to shoot him – of course, he went on for another games and won yet another gold medal.
The final treat is a chance to have a photo of yourself with the London 2012 torch as well as a souvenir brochure. Not bad for a free exhibit! The Olympic Journey is only on until 12th August, so do try and squeeze in a visit.
(Feature image: completefrance.com)