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  • Writer's pictureKyrby Brown

Churchill Fellowship Day Twenty One: The Olympic Fallacy

We visited the Olympic and Paralympic museum here in Colorado yesterday and it stirred up some conflicting feelings in me.

Image Description: The outside of the Olympic and Paralympic museum from the ramp leading down from the cafe. The museum is bright white in colour and very cubic with a rectangular ledge hanging over the shrouded entrance.

Firstly, the museum itself states it incorporates universal design principles to be fully accessible. Inside the museum this is certainly the case, you start on the third floor and use gentle slopes to make your way through Olympic and Paralympic history. The entrance however, is the exact opposite of universal design, with steps heading up in two directions, one to the entrance and one to the cafe. Wrapped around the steps is an obscenely long ramp, meaning it would take your average wheelchair user double the time to access either location.

The building itself is highly modern and stylised and stands out from the surrounding mountains. At the entrance is a huge lobby area with giant screens depicting various Olympic and Paralympic champions. The museum uses cards with near field communication chips to document your experience. In my option the best part was the ‘have a go’ area showcasing a few digitalised versions of sports to try. My favourite was the Skelton bobsled depicted below.

Image Description: I’m leaning into an upright metal bobsled controlled by body weight whilst completing a digital ‘course’ on the screen behind.

It was also cool to learn about the equipment used in the various sports, for me particularly on the Paralympic side of things.

However, the constant message being thrown out throughout the museums halls was that of inspiration. That with the ‘right’ mindset anyone can be an Olympian/Paralympian and that’s simply not true. Unfortunately it takes more than mindset and hard physical work, it takes an absolute boatload of money. Not only that but it takes recognition and opportunity, which are two things that no-one can control. Interestingly there was no mention of performance pathways, training costs or equipment costs anywhere. This seemed like a glaring omission from the perspective of someone who has been inside the system. The simple fact is that not everyone can or should strive to be an Olympian/Paralympian, and those who do should choose to do so knowing the sacrifices they’re going to have to make.

Understandably, the museum also focuses on sports that the USA tend to medal in, for example the equestrian sports are not even mentioned. I think this is a real shame because it’s the lesser known sports that need more spotlight to capture the imagination of the general public. For me this museum aligned itself with the agenda of Team USA, including only showing the parts of the sporting culture the appeal to the masses.

Olympians and Paralympians are incredible athletes and dedicated individuals who require a great deal of grit, passion and mental strength to do what they do. But they are not heroes who set a standard to which the rest of us are supposed to strive for. They are not the best of humanity - that does not exist in one group or culture.

Whilst we should always strive to be the best people we can be, we should do this by first exploring who we are. By setting a standard of human excellence across the board you risk killing the individuality of personal growth, giving the average person a general feeling of inadequacy. We are each entitled to work within our own parameters, without the pressure of being the best.

I could write a book about the potential damage caused by the glorification of athletes, so I shan’t keep going on. However, I did want to capture the feeling the museum gave me during my visit.

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