“You cannot put a price on Olympic gold. To me, it's special, it's different. It's true we have a fantastic tour, with all the facilities, all the money, but the Olympics is the real spirit of sport.”
So said Rafael Nadal after winning the gold medal in the men’s singles in the Beijing Olympics four years ago, giving a fascinating insight into the mind and motivation of a modern tennis player.
In the light of Nadal’s view, the Olympics Exhibition which has opened at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum is an enthralling treasure trove. Described as being in “ongoing development” by Ashley Jones, commercial manager of the AELTC, the exhibition comprises highlights and memorabilia from the 14 previous tennis events at the Olympic Games. This includes Olympic medals and badges, certificates and diplomas, clothing, programmes and souvenirs. Curator Honor Godfrey has just acquired the model of a wheelchair used in Paralympic tennis. She also has on loan the Olympic gold medals won in Beijing by Rafael Nadal, and by Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka in the men’s doubles. On display, too, are the gold, silver and bronze medals from the 1908 London Olympics when Wimbledon hosted the grass court tennis competition, though at the original grounds at Worple Road. That year there was also an indoor Olympic event held earlier in the year at Queen’s Club.
The Museum makes a rewarding visit for around 5,000 people during the Championships fortnight so – not wanting to issue Spoiler Alerts – I can reveal a few further teasers. The exhibition tells the stories of John Boland, the first Olympic tennis champion; Titanic survivor Richard Williams and his mixed doubles partner Hazel Wightman who triumphed in 1924; and the completion of Stefanie Graf's 'golden slam' in 1988 at Seoul. It tracks the Olympic tennis story all the way through to the Beijing Olympics when Nadal, who stayed in the Athletes' Village, and did his own laundry there, won the gold medal.
Another good reason to drop in on the Museum is to see the three Renshaw Cups won by the last British Wimbledon champion, Fred Perry, in 1934, 1935 and 1936, which have added lustre to the 1920s and 1930s permanent showcase. (No pressure, Andy!) A future good reason will be the development of the special effects cinema: after the Olympic Games, the current 200-degree cinema which captures ‘The Science of Tennis’ will be taken out and replaced with a 360-degree cinema and brand new film.
It will be interesting to see if the new Olympic gold medallists will prompt any change to the languages already available on Tours of the Grounds here, and on audio guides to the Museum. On the first Saturday following Novak Djokovic’s Championships triumph last year, the daughters of the president of Serbia and their entourage turned up for a Tour of the hallowed turf on which he had dominated. Luckily, the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum is the only visitor attraction in Great Britain that boasts an audio guide in Croatian (which is readily understood by Serbians). It has also just introduced one in Brazilian/Portuguese.
Since Nadal’s first victory, Spanish visitors have increased. In response to a growing number of visitors from Spain and Central America, the Museum is increasing its current one tour a day in Spanish to two. All in all, the Tour can be taken with a guide conversant in any one of 15 different languages: English, French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay, Hungarian, Russian, Czech, Portuguese and Indonesian.