While tomorrow night’s opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games will certainly be artistic, today’s Olympics lack another kind of artistry that was in place for four decades. From 1912 to 1952, the Olympics included artistic events along side the sporting ones. Over the years, a total of 151 medals were awarded for architecture, music, painting, sculpture and literature for works that took their inspiration from sport.
In 1912, the first gold medal for sculpture was awarded to American Walter Winans for his bronze piece, American Trotter. This was Winans’ third Olympic medal however, having already won two for the sport of sharpshooting.
In 1948, a silver medal was won by John Copley for his engraving Polo Players. This made him the oldest ever medal recipient. He no longer holds that title, since the art competitions have been removed from the Olympic record. The 151 medals awarded for arts also no longer count in current countries’ medal counts.
The Olympic art events saw varying levels of popularity over the years. Their removal from the games came about for a different reason though. The Olympics were always meant to be a showcase of the best amateurs from around the world. It was decided that art could no longer be included because the artists were in fact professionals, earning their livings from their works.
To read more about the history of Olympic art events, have a look at this Smithsonian piece. The library also has many books, ebooks, and videos about the Olympics in general.
Pictured at the top is Jean Jacoby’s Corner and Rugby. Rugby took home home a gold medal in 1928. At the bottom is the 1924 silver medal winner The Liffey Swim by Jack Butler Yeats.