‘The Olympic Journey – The Story of the Games’ at The Royal Opera House

The early bird avoids the queue

An unusual collaboration between Covent Garden Opera House and The Olympic Museum in Lausanne, this show was staged in the foyer and part of the floral hall bar of the opera house, more used to accommodating music lovers taking their interval refreshments.

I’d noticed the queue when I was in the area last Thursday, and a bit of online searching revealed that the exhibition opened at 8am, so, being averse to waiting in line for anything, we got there at 8:30 on Saturday and were ushered straight through to the security scan.  We had to wait for entry to the building until a green light shown on the little box by the door, because, as the young woman guide explained to us, it was a ‘pulse flow’.

Once inside, the first room contained a display recounting the history of the ancient Olympics, with some fine pots depicting athletic events, wrestling and running and an explanation of the schedule for the 5 days of competition.  The second room focussed on the pentathlon and, projecting onto a huge pot, animating figures from the painted pots, showed some of the imagined drama.

‘We then jump centuries to the modern era’ according to our guide, to a brief history of Pierre de Coubertin and his establishment of the modern Olympics in the 1890s.  One vitrine showed some of the awards and medals awarded to him by various countries; a fascinating show of star shaped bling from the turn of the last century.

Up the well upholstered staircase there was an exhibition of the torch from each Games since the ritual was introduced in Berlin in 1936.  I’ve not been a fan of the torch palaver, and this bit of the show did nothing to change my view.  They’re torches; let’s hope no-one spent too much time or money on any of them, as with the exception of the one from Sydney 2000 which managed to hint at both a boomerang and Sydney Opera House, they are unremarkably torchy.

The most notable thing about the world map showing the various trips the flame has taken over the years, with an extra highlight on the epic UK tour, was that Guildford and Aberystwyth had clearly been misspelt the first time round and a correction had been pasted onto the board.  I wonder when they noticed…….

The final room was, for me, the most interesting, and was the one in which we were released from the ‘pulse flow’ and could see at our own pace.  In it were displays, including artefacts and short films, highlighting the lives and achievements of 20 Olympic athletes.  Why they all cared so much about their sporting achievements is fascinating in itself.

One of the features that has been much discussed about the 2012 Games is that there is for the first time near parity between men and women’s events and that all the participating countries have brought female athletes as part of their teams.  This has included women’s boxing for the first time.  Personally I can’t abide boxing of any kind, but if women are going to do it, then I suppose they should be allowed to do it at the Olympics on the same basis as men.

The slow but gradual development of women’s sport is evident in this last part of the show from Fanny Blankers-Koen, through Olga Korbut and Cathy Freeman to Kelly Holmes, it does trace and echo the changes in  attitudes towards women’s capabilities and rights.  At least no-one now suggests that women athletes should be at home looking after their children….or do they?

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