Dark as is the cloud of the pandemic, there have been silver linings in the world of sport - not least for the Museum of World Athletics (MOWA) that launched today.
This World Athletics project, the world’s first fully-virtual 3D sports museum, has been created from the base of the organisation's heritage department, which, with the committed support of the World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, was established in 2018 under its director, Chris Turner.
As from today visitors can access the virtual riches of MOWA for free through the main World Athletics site, either roaming at will through displays involving 60 donated exhibits owned by athletes such as Paavo Nurmi, Jesse Owens, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Irena Szewinska, Carl Lewis, Marie-José Pérec, Jan Železný, Allyson Felix and Usain Bolt, or taking guided tours.
Turner stresses that this project is a team effort receiving huge support from the World Athletics communications, broadcasting and marketing departments, and dependent on the generosity of athletes and federations.
The idea of a virtual museum was one he put to the World Athletics leadership in 2016 as part of his vision of how a heritage department would work.
The department was established, initiating a system of Heritage Plaques for people and places that have played a vital part in the formation of the sport, organising reunions such as the one for some of the world’s great milers, or their families, who converged on Monaco in December 2019, and building up a collection of athletics memorabilia that has featured in exhibitions staged to mark some of the major World Athletics championships.
When lockdown was imposed, however, the exhibitions being organised at the planned 2020 World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing, and 2020 World Race Walking Team Championships in Minsk, were cancelled.
And the silver lining - that unspent budget allowed Turner to press ahead with his virtual vision - something he did in company with Jason Gardener, Britain’s former world and European 60 metres indoor champion and Athens 4x100m gold medallist, who is managing director of digital company dcSPORT.
The impetus of the heritage programme was thus maintained through innovation.
As it gets off the metaphorical blocks the exhibition contains more than 400 items of supporting text, photos and video, while the exhibits - singlets, spikes, medals, implements - which form the central points of attention can, through the digital intervention of Gardener and his team, be viewed from 360 degrees.
"One of the biggest technical challenges was to build a digital environment where the modelling of the memorabilia donated by the athletes would look real," Gardener said in an online preview event for today’s launch.
"We thought long and hard about making sure how the viewer can see the quality of the artefacts. Some of them are extremely old and they have got some scratches and marks which I think are really interesting to the viewer.
"The process we decided to go for was 360 photography. So we took 36 photos of each artefact, every 10 degrees, just going round it, so we could capture every detail.
"And the size of the images, the files, is enormous, so the great thing is you can press a button and zoom in to get the absolute intricate detail of the artefacts.
"The clarity of the graphics and the quality of the photographic reproduction is state of the art."
Gardener highlights as an example the donated shoes that were worn by Brazil’s Adhemar da Silva, the Olympic triple jump champion of 1952 and 1956.
"The spikes are gold but you can see underneath that they were maybe originally red, and you can see the details, the creases, and big long daggers of the spikes. People may ask why the spikes were so big. But when you look back, the tracks have changed. He was competing on cinder or gravel tracks as they were sometimes referred to."
Who can explain the fascination of seeing The Actual Item? Even if you cannot stand with your nose pressed against a glass case, the way this museum has been set up offers you the next best thing. As Gardener says, all the little creases and imperfections can be viewed, in close-up if required.
One of the most prized of the exhibits is the red singlet worn by Jesse Owens the year before he won his three golds at the Berlin Olympics, when he produced what many observers of the sport believe is its most extraordinary performance.
At the Big Ten meeting at Ferry Field in Ann Arbor on May 25, 1935, Owens set three world records - reaching 8.13m in the long jump, a mark that would stand for 25 years, 20.3sec in the 220 yards and 22.6sec in the 220 yards low hurdles, becoming the first to break 23 seconds.
Both his track records are thought likely to have broken the world marks for the 200m equivalents en route.
World Athletics will continue to add new features and galleries regularly, beginning with an Olympic exhibition, which will open in July, before the Tokyo Olympic Games start, and an out-of-arena exhibition in the autumn.
"You will be hearing a lot about MOWA in coming weeks and months," said Turner.
"You will never go back and see the same thing every time."
To reach more on the MOWA launch, click here.