Modern Olympic Games Posters history through Design

Modern Olympic Games Posters using a single image in an attempt to do justice to the superhuman feats of strength that define this international event. Over the past century, poster designers have attempted to capture the sheer awesomeness of the Modern Olympics in an endless variety of ways.

For the most part, the posters are safe representations of their respective eras. Art deco influences crop up in posters from the ’30s and ’40s. Designs from the ’60s and ’70s channel minimalism.  The influence of graffiti rears its head in posters of the ’90s.

The Modern Olympics

Their creation was inspired by the ancient Olympic Games, which were held in Olympia, Greece, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD.  The first Games held under the auspices of the IOC was hosted in the Panathenaic stadium in Athens in 1896. The Games brought together 14 nations and 241 athletes who competed in 43 events. The IOC intended for subsequent Games to be rotated to various host cities around the world. After the success of the 1896 Games, the Olympics entered a period of stagnation that threatened their survival. The Olympic Games held at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and the World’s fair at St. Louis in 1904 were side shows.  When the St. Louis Games were celebrated roughly 650 athletes participated, but 580 were from the United States. The homogeneous nature of these celebrations was a low point for the Olympic Movement. The Games rebounded when the 1906 Intercalated Games (so-called because they were the second Games held within the third Olympiad) were held in Athens. These Games were, but are not now, officially recognized by the IOC and no Intercalated Games have been held since. The Games attracted a broad international field of participants and generated great public interest. This marked the beginning of a rise in both the popularity and the size of the Olympics as we know them today.

The Ancient Olympics

The Olympic games were held to be one of the two central rituals in Ancient Greece, the other being the much older religious festival, the Eleusinian Mysteries. The games started in Olympia, Greece, in a sanctuary site for the Greek deities near the towns of Elis and Pisa (both in Elis on the peninsula of Peloponnesos).

The Greek tradition of athletic nudity (gymnos) was introduced in 720 BC, and this was adopted early in the Olympics as well. The athletes usually competed nude, not only because the weather was appropriate, but also as the festival was meant to celebrate, in part, the achievements of the human body. Because the men competed nude, married women were forbidden to watch the Olympics under penalty of death.

The ancient Olympics were as much a religious festival as an athletic event. The games were held in honor of the Greek god Zeus, and on the middle day of the games, 100 oxen would be sacrificed to him.

Some of the games that were played:

Event Athlete Information
Foot Race Runner When this race was run once across the field it was called a Stade. The race was called a diaulos when running once across the field and then back to the starting point. Another race was called a Hippicos when the runners ran four Stades in a row.
Chariot Race Rider It was possible for the winner to be a woman in official games from early on. This was likely because she was not physically competing, she was just the owner of the chariot. Women, like many athletes of their time, typically came from well known and wealthy families.
Discus Thrower The thrower had restriction on his method of throwing, and could only throw directly in front of himself. The thrower, like most athletes, had to practice his positioning and was required to position his body in order to properly throw the discus.
Jumping Jumper The athlete would wear weights to toss his body forward. These were leather bands tied to their arms with weights attached to them. The jumper was required to land with both feet close together and could not land on all fours.
Running with Armor Runner Was called a Hoplite. Consisted of men running in some pieces of armor. These were typically a helmet or shield, not too much or the runner would be weighed down. This event can be seen as an indication to the games being connected to war.

Artistic expression was a major part of the games. Sculptors, poets and other artisans would come to the games to display their works in what became an artistic competition.  Only free men who spoke Greek were allowed to participate in the Ancient Games of classical times.  The winner of an Olympic event was awarded an olive branch and often was received with much honor throughout Greece, especially in his home town, where he was often granted large sums of money.

The Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics was created to feature snow and ice sports that were logistically impossible to hold during the Summer Games. Figure skating (in 1908 and 1920) and ice hockey (in 1920) were featured as Olympic events at the Summer Olympics. The IOC desired to expand this list of sports to encompass other winter activities. At the 1921 Olympic Congress in Lausanne, it was decided to hold a winter version of the Olympic Games. A winter sports week (it was actually 11 days) was held in 1924 in Chamonix, France, in connection with the Paris Games held three months later; this event became the first Winter Olympic Games. Although it was intended that the same country host both the Winter and Summer Games in a given year, this idea was quickly abandoned. The IOC mandated that the Winter Games be celebrated every four years on the same year as their summer counterpart. This tradition was upheld until the 1992 Games in Albertville, France; after that, beginning with the 1994 Games, the Winter Olympics were held every four years, two years after each Summer Olympics.

The Olympic flame

The Olympic flame is a symbol of the Modern Olympic Games. Commemorating the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus, its origins lie in ancient Greece, where a fire was kept burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics. The fire was introduced at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, and it has been part of the modern Olympic Games ever since.  The Olympic Torch today is ignited several months before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games at the site of the ancient Olympics in Olympia, Greece. Eleven women, representing the Vestal Virgins, perform a celebration at the Temple of Hera in which the torch is kindled by the light of the Sun, its rays concentrated by a parabolic mirror.   The Olympic Torch Relay ends on the day of the opening ceremony in the central stadium of the Games. After being lit, the flame continues to burn throughout the Games, until the day of the closing ceremony and celebration, when it is finally put out, symbolizing the official end of the Games.

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