MUSEUM / EXHIBITS

Built for gold

01/07/2024 – 01/07/2025
Trianondreef 19, 1981 Zemst
Free
24h by 24h

2024 is an Olympic year: from July 26 to Aug. 11, Paris will host the Olympics. The French capital did so twice before, in 1900 and in 1924.

That’s why the Sportimonium highlights Olympic heritage. For much has changed since the first Paris Games. There are more athletes, from more countries and from more diverse backgrounds. There are more sports to watch. And there are more spectators than ever.

Curious about the course of the Games? Then follow the route through our museum garden, admire sporting scenes in Playmobil and discover fascinating stories. And. meet the Olympian in our museum depot.

EXPO

Built for gold

With 2024 being an Olympic year, it was the city of Paris that was elected to host the Summer Olympic Games, from 26 July to 11 August 2024. The French capital did so twice before, in 1900 and in 1924.

Sportimonium is pleased to highlight the Olympic heritage and show how much has changed since Paris’ first Olympics in 1900. The 2024 Games will have more athletes, from more countries and from more diverse backgrounds. More sports disciplines will welcome more spectators than ever before.

Find out more about the evolution of the Olympic Games by following the route through our museum garden, marvel at sport scenes made of Playmobil figurines and discover countless fascinating stories. And do make sure to meet some of our great Belgian Olympians in our museum depot.

Olympic medals

There is no competition without a prize, no winner without a medal. And as sustainability is a crucial feature of the Paris Olympics, winning athletes will be taking home a little piece of a quintessential French icon: the 2024 medals will contain recycled iron pieces of the Eiffel Tower!

1. Sports, art and culture

Olympic art

Many years ago, the Olympic programme also included art competitions. They were introduced by the International Olympic Committee from the 1912 Games onwards, mainly under the influence of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Games. He firmly believed the Olympics should strengthen both body and mind.

Artists could win Olympic medals in disciplines such as music, literature and sculpting. Especially during the 1924 Paris Games, art competitions enjoyed great success. The last ones were held during the 1948 London Olympiad before disappearing from the programme.

The Games inspire artists

These days, art competition medals are no longer awarded but the Games do continue to provide a wonderful source of inspiration for artists and creatives. So many books, plays, games, films … have used the Games as a theme. Remember the 1981 movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ which told the captivating story of two British runners during the 1924 Games in Paris.

In turn, the Games also draw inspiration from the arts. The opening ceremony is always a good case in point, as the grand spectacle invariably includes music, dance and light. In 2024, the opening ceremony takes place on the Seine, the iconic river that runs through Paris, and the French capital’s many historical monuments will also take centre stage.

2. Sustainable Olympics

From a tent camp …

The 1924 Paris Olympics marked a first as it was the first time a dedicated athletes village was built. Before that, athletes generally stayed in hotels or public buildings that were provided by the local administration. Admittedly, the first athletes village was by no means luxurious. The athletes stayed in makeshift wooden barracks, which did have running water though. The village was built close to the Olympic stadium and, like many villages, included a post office, a restaurant and even a hair salon.

… to a resort

The 1924 makeshift athletes village has evolved into a 2024 modern town. The size of 100 football pitches, the Paris venue is located seven kilometres outside the city centre and the city council even built a new metro stop to connect the village to the rest of Paris. A total of 14,250 athletes will stay in the village during the Olympics, and another 8,000 during the Paralympics. Moreover, the village will stay put once the Olympic athletes leave, as the building will be repurposed for residential housing and offices.

41 competition venues (25 existing, 14 temporary and 2 brand-new venues) / 13 million meals

3. Marianne who?

All eyes on the city

The 1924 Paris Games were the first to launch their own logo, reflecting the heart and soul of the host city. However, logos did not become commonplace immediately as the 1928 Amsterdam Games did not design one. From the 1932 edition in Los Angeles onwards, logos did become a regular feature and have remained so ever since.

Three symbols

The 2024 Paris logo consists of three cleverly intertwined symbols. The golden circle refers to athletes’ ambition to perform at the top of their game. The golden flame aims to unite the world once again around the Olympic ideal while the female head in the logo represents Marianne. Marianne embodies the French Republic and its ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity. It is the first time an Olympic logo shows the face of a woman, a nod to the 1900 Paris Games, the first in which women were allowed to participate.

4. Congrats, Team Belgium!

Loads of gold, silver and bronze medals

In 1900, Belgian athletes participated in the Olympics for the first time in Paris, and they had a blast as the Belgian team immediately racked up 15 medals. In the following 120 years, our Belgian medal scores went up and down.

More Belgians = more medals?

This year, the biggest Team Belgium ever will take part in the Games: never before have so many Belgians qualified. Especially in athletics and cycling, Belgium has a solid representation. Quite a few Team Belgium athletes have a good chance of winning medals too, such as the Belgian Cats, our women’s basketball team, long-distance runner Bashir Abdi and the Belgian cyclists. But how many medals will Belgium eventually take home? We will have to wait and see!

5. Men = Women
Outnumbered for a long time

At the 1900 Paris Games, women were allowed to compete for the first time. However, it would still take a long time for the proportion of female participants to come anywhere near the number of male athletes. At the Paris Games in 1924, women still made up only 4% of all athletes, but the rise of female Olympians was unstoppable. In just about every edition of the Games, more and more women took part in an ever increasing amount of events.

Level playing field

The International Olympic Committee is committed to gender equality and this year, for the very first time, an equal number of men and women are participating in the Summer Games. The IOC even decided to remove a men’s section in the boxing competition to ensure equal numbers of women and men. Also symbolically inclusion takes centre stage, as the organisation chose to incorporate Marianne’s head into the 2024 Olympic logo, symbolising the French Republic and marking the first time that a woman is incorporated into the logo, a clear reference to the IOC’s dedication to gender equality.

The numbers:

1900: 975 men versus 22 women

1924: 2,954 men versus 135 women

2024: 5,250 men versus 5,250 women

6. New!

Old and new

Over the years, a lot of Olympic disciplines have come and gone as the IOC regularly likes to add novelties to the programme. For example, 1924 marked the year when the first Winter Olympics were organised, in the French town of Chamonix. In turn, other sport disciplines lost their Olympic status for short or long periods of time. Tennis disappeared from the Games for 64 years after the 1924 Games and only resurfaced from the 1988 Seoul Games onwards.

Make a break, make a move

As the IOC wants to remain attractive to a wide audience, they schedule new sport disciplines at every Games. Whether these newbies also become a permanent fixture part of the Olympic programme always remains to be seen. At the 2024 Games, the three sports that made their debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing – do return to the programme. The real newcomer this year is breakdance, the athletic and artistic dance style that is rooted in the 1970s hip-hop culture of the United States.

The numbers

32 sport disciplines

329 events

8 new

7. The Paralympics

No limits

The first Paralympic Games were organised in Rome in 1960. From then on, athletes with a physical disability could also compete to achieve top Olympic performances. The Summer Paralympics are organised every four years too, and the Paralympic Winter Games have been added in 1976. Before 1960, it was not unheard of for athletes with physical disabilities to compete in the Olympics. The American gymnast George Eyser, for example, competed in the 1904 Olympics with a prosthetic leg.

The Paris Paralympics

The 2024 Paralympics will also take place in Paris and here too, inclusion takes centre stage. Several of the pictograms depicting the programmed sport disciplines have been designed to be used for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Eight of the icons are used for both Games: can you find them all?

Because athletes with very different physical limitations participate in the Paralympics, strict rules often apply to avoid unfair competition. For example, athletes with two artificial legs may only wear prostheses that are proportionate to the rest of their body. After all, the longer the prosthetics, the more advantage they provide.

8. Uniting

The five rings

The most famous Olympic symbol must be the Olympic flag with its five intertwined rings, in blue, yellow, black, green and red, on a white background. The Olympic flag, designed by Pierre de Coubertin, the modern Olympic movement creator, was officially raised at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics for the first time. The choice of the five ring colours and the white background was symbolical as every national flag in the world uses at least one of those six colours and, as such, it also evokes world peace. However, that ideal proved difficult to maintain as the Games often became a battlefield for international conflicts. In 1936, for instance, Adolf Hitler used the Games in Berlin as propaganda for his Nazi regime.

Ensuring neutrality

The Olympic Games remain committed to peace. During each closing ceremony, for instance, athletes no longer enter the stadium by national delegation, but walk criss-cross amongst each other as a show of international fraternisation.

But the Games do remain closely linked to international politics. As Vladimir Putin’s regime invaded Ukraine, Russia is not allowed to send an official delegation to Paris this year. Russian athletes are only allowed to participate as so-called ‘Individual Neutral Athletes’. They may not carry the Russian flag during the opening ceremony, but must walk under the banner of a special neutral flag.

Museum depot

Sculptural athletes

The Playmobil figures in our museum garden embody athletes in all kinds of sports and positions. The little figurines fit nicely into the typical sport world’s tradition of immortalising remarkable athletes and other sports figures throughout the 20th century. Countless successful athletes have been honoured with a bronze or stone sculpture.

The Brussels sculptor Louis van Cutsem even specialised in making busts and monuments for exceptional Belgian sportsmen, from cycling stars like Jef Scherens to boxers like Cyriel Delannoit. Sportimonium proudly preserves a collection of his work.

Today, there are many ways to capture an athlete in sculpture. Even in Playmobil … and LEGO too. In 2022, LEGO artist Dirk Denoyelle made a life-size statue of Belgian Olympic champion Nafi Thiam.

Objects

Bronze bust of Belgian fencer Charles Debeur (1906 -1981). Debeur participated four times in the Olympic Games, from 1928 in Amsterdam to 1952 in Helsinki. At the latter, he carried the Belgian flag during the opening ceremony.

Plaster bust of Eddy Merckx (1945 – … ) by Louis van Cutsem. Merckx cycled in competition from 1961 to 1978 and became one of the most successful Belgian road and track cyclists ever. Following his cycling career, he coached, among other things, the Belgian national cycling team and was a member of the BOIC, the Belgian Olympic and Interfederal Committee.

Bust of Juan Antonio Samaranch (1920-2010) by Rosa Serro. A politician and diplomat under the regime of Spanish dictator Franco, Samaranch also became an active sports administrator. From 1980 to 2001, he was president of the International Olympic Committee.