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More than just an autograph

May 9, 2011

Frederique Jamolli’s job is to prise the most treasured items from the hands of newly-crowned Olympians.

Her job is to ask sprint champion Usain Bolt for his Jamaican vest or the pair of brightly coloured spikes worn by Cathy Freeman after her 400-metre win at Sydney in 2000.

Jamolli and her team of about five tour the Olympic villages asking for memorabilia to help fill the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. Some sportsmen are anxious when approached, but many know their items will be well looked after.

“Most of the time they are very open, but we have to be  very respectful because for them the sports equipment is something that is part of them, especially because we are asking for, if we can, the sports equipment used during the competition in which they won the medal,” she told Reuters.

“We try to explain to them what we can do with their donation, because we can of course organise exhibitions anywhere in the world. We can have educational programmes. We will conserve them in the best situation, so this is why sometimes they say ‘they are better in your museum than in my apartment, in my house’.”

It is not just winners she is interested in, but those with a story. One of the items she prizes most are the swimming trunks of Eric Moussambani, the swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, who was nicknamed “Eric the Eel” for his particularly slow time in the pool at the 2000 Olympics.

“If a story is important, maybe we will have concrete testimony of that. It is not only about the champion, but also the spirit of the Games,” she said.

The 100,000 items housed at the museum started out as the personal interests of previous IOC presidents, and over the decades have grown through a mixture of persuasion, charm and money.  Some items are on “deposit”, with the chance that their owners could request their return at any time.

Other memorabilia include the shoes used by Emil Zatopek when he won the 1952 marathon at Helsinki at his first attempt, and the fencing mask that belonged to Pierre de Coubertin, the man behind the revival of the Games.

“I like it so much, you know. It is the village of the world; you can meet different kinds of people,” Jamolli said of her trips to the athletes’ villages.

“It is a very lively story, not just static. It’s an object to tell the story by.”

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