Opening the Olympics Exhibition, Museum of London

16th June 2013

Experience History's Phoebe Newman relives one of Britain's greatest sporting occasions. Opening the Olympics is open until 31 October 2013.

The Olympic Torch in 2012

The Museum of London’s ‘Opening the Olympics’ display in the World History gallery relives the triumph and excitement of the 2012 summer games.

Curator Timothy Long keeps the Olympic flame alight, although the featured torch remains resolutely unlit. From souvenir sick bags to Tom Daley’s 28-inch Union Jack swimming trunks, the small display recalls different aspects of the 2012 games through mundane memorabilia, costume and music.

Albeit small, the 70 objects on display reignite the excitement of the previous summer through multiple experiences: those of the volunteers and participants. The display is sectioned, with one part remembering the opening ceremony and the other displaying mementos that were produced for the game’s visitors.

The various costumes included in the display are a 1960’s style dress made out of mirrors, a Policeman’s newsprint suit, a Mary Poppins’ costume and a NHS nurse outfit. Each costume exhibited pays tribute to different elements of British culture and history; pop music, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Shakespeare (strangely reproduced on the Policeman suit), as well as children’s literature, and a salute to the NHS.

What is evident from the display is the huge amount of symbolic detail that is included in the production of each costume; something that I certainly didn’t appreciate when watching the opening and closing ceremonies. The costumes are put in context by the screen that shows clips of the performances and music from the opening ceremony. These details were certainly drowned out by the spectacle of the productions, so it is pleasing to see that the display allows and encourages visitors to trace British history through the outfits.

The second half of the show celebrates the experiences of the 17,500 volunteers. The variety of objects from workers’ security passes to the more familiar ‘Mandeville’ mascot reminds the visitor of the sheer amount of preparation behind the event. All of these items had to be designed, approved and produced, and it is the minutiae of the organisation that boggles the mind.

The so-called ‘star’ of the show is Tom Daley’s bronze medal winning ‘budgie smugglers’ which have already attracted critical acclaim. They are, in fact, the only reference to athletic competition in the whole display (Bradley Wiggins’ yellow jersey which is also present was only worn in the opening ceremony). Without Tom Daley wearing them, the famed trunks seem rather redundant!

The display is clearly more dedicated to celebrating the unofficial stories of the games makers and volunteers, and includes a request for more anecdotes from the public. The display is a work in progress, and the Museum of London hopes to expand its collection over time. As one of the biggest events to have ever graced the capital, it is appropriate that the Museum celebrates the success of the 2012 Olympics- not just of the athletes, but also of those who helped to make it happen. If you wish to re live the sporting magic of last summer, on your marks, get set, go and see it.