Being Olympic City USA: It's more than just a museum

As groundbreaking ceremonies go, the June 9 celebration of already-started work on the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame provided some goosebump moments.

After all, Colorado Springs finally pulled off this $75 million project, combining state and local, public and private resources. So it's OK to be giddy, and it was fine for USOM Chairman Dick Celeste, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Mayor John Suthers and U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun to offer their eloquence.

This wasn't overdone, either, just a half-hour on a perfect summer morning when years of promises and hopes finally came true. It actually would've made sense to spend a few more minutes adding historical perspective, given that a very similar event for the same purpose happened 10,908 days earlier. On July 30, 1987, three decades ago, a similar group of recognizable figures led by then-Gov. Roy Romer, then-Mayor Robert Isaac, then-USOC President Robert Helmick and then-local Olympic leader Bill Tutt, gave similar speeches to local leaders and donors at the original planned site of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, east of Marksheffel Road off Colorado Highway 94.

That deal — trumpeted at the time as the USOC's largest private-sector gift in its history — fell apart when the nationwide savings-and-loan collapse of the late 1980s took down Banning Lewis Ranch developer Frank Aries and his audacious plans. It only merited a passing reference at this groundbreaking, inadequate given the monstrous local effort at the time. If we want to care that much about our history, highs and lows, we should do a better job of remembering it.

What transpired last Friday also showed Colorado Springs still has a lot to learn about playing the role of Olympic City USA, our invaluable label of distinction.

Being Olympic City USA, it should be said, is far more than building an architectural jewel with Pikes Peak in the background and counting on the masses to come see it. Also far more than donors big and small providing the funding to preserve Olympic memories.

This was a chance for Colorado Springs to prove its stature as Olympic City USA. But it can only be graded as a D, for disappointment.

[pullquote-1] It wasn't enough just asking former Olympians in the crowd to stand and be applauded. In fact, that was weak. Every one should have been introduced, because many weren't celebrities. First, though, the organizers should have brought in Colorado Springs' own living legend, Peggy Fleming (gold, figure skating, 1968), along with others directly tied to our city such as Wasson High School graduate Scott Johnson (gold, gymnastics, 1984), former Fort Carson soldier Andrew Maynard (gold, boxing, 1988) and Coronado High School standout Henry Cejudo (gold, wrestling, 2008).

Even without them, an unexpected guest at the groundbreaking should have been escorted to the podium. Charlie Moore, who won the 400-meter hurdles gold medal at Helsinki in 1952, had come from New York to visit the USOC headquarters and stood proudly when the Olympians were recognized as a group. At 87, he's one of America's oldest living Olympic champions (and a highly successful businessman), yet nobody singled him out. Too bad, because we can only hope Moore lives long enough to come back and see the finished museum for himself. At least we should have given him a short speech and a heartwarming ovation.

One other misstep: At some point, the attendees should have shared a moment of silence for Steven Holcomb (gold, four-man bobsled, 2010), the former Olympic Training Center resident-athlete who tragically died last month at 37 in his sleep at the training facility in Lake Placid, New York. Holcomb's mother, uncle and other relatives have lived around Colorado Springs and Woodland Park for years. Holcomb will be in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame some day, and this museum's purpose is to tell stories such as his. A tribute would have been most fitting here last week. Instead, nothing.

We have to be much better than that to deserve being Olympic City USA. Building the museum is only the foundation. This means treating Olympians of every stripe as exemplary heroes. It means receptions, speaking engagements and other public events featuring Olympic champions whenever they come to the museum, or when new exhibits are unveiled.

That's the real challenge facing Colorado Springs.

It's time to start acting like Olympic City USA. Now.