Physical Prowess, Artistic Excellence—Going for the Gold!

At the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, the perfect brushstroke was just as likely to win a medal as the quickest sprint. That year, Pierre de Coubertin—cofounder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)—introduced a series of Olympic events in the fields of painting, literature, music, architecture, and sculpture, with the requirement that all creations must be sports-themed.

The winners of the artistic competitions were awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals, like the winners of the athletic competitions.

Although many of the newly eligible competitors lacked the physical prowess of traditional Olympians, some excelled at both the athletic and the artistic. For example, American marksman Walter Winans not only won a silver medal for sharpshooting at the 1912 Games but also took home gold for his 20-inch-tall sculpture of a horse-drawn chariot, titled “An American Trotter.”

In future Olympiads, the artistic events focused on even more niche disciplines. By the 1928 Amsterdam Games, architecture was subcategorized into design and town planning, while literature was divided into lyrical, dramatic, and epic works.

After a hiatus during World War II, the arts returned as official Olympic events one final time at the 1948 London Games. It was there that 73-year-old John Copley won a silver medal for his engraving titled “Polo Players,” becoming the oldest Olympic medalist in history.

However, because of the difficulty determining the amateur status of the artists, new IOC president Avery Brundage led a campaign to remove the creative events from the official Olympic program, relegating the arts to exhibition status by the 1952 Games. All 151 artistic Olympic medals that had been awarded between 1912 and 1948 were stricken from the official record books.

Sports photography is all about the art and technique of both the photographer and the athlete being captured on camera. Students can experience what being a sports photographer is like with the Olympic Museum’s selection of videos. Accompanying the videos are documents that provide historical context and examples, printable activity suggestions, and links to learn more.

Teachers can bring the spirit and history of the Olympic Games alive for their students with the variety of resources on the Olympic Museum’s website. Students can zoom in on essential reading material covering a wide range of topics, from Olympic history to sports psychology, as well as the cultural impact of the Games.

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