These 12 Vintage Posters Will Get You Fired Up for the Summer Olympics
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12 Summer Olympics That Forever Changed the Games
A lot has happened since the first Olympic games were held in 776 B.C. For starters, men are no longer the only competitors, and the games are no longer held at the Greek site of Olympia.
As the world prepares for this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio (Brazil is the first South American country to host the event), we at AFAR took a look back at the history of the Olympics—through 12 striking vintage posters. From outstanding athletes—such as “The Flying Housewife” and the barefoot marathon winner, Abebe Bikila—to boycotts and political upheaval, there’s a lot to learn from past Olympic games.
The 1912 Olympics were the first competition to include women’s swimming and diving, and the last games to hand out solid gold medals. More than 2,406 athletes (including 47 women) from 28 nations competed. It was also the first time a country in Asia (Japan) participated.
The 1924 games in Paris were the second Olympics hosted by France. The city out-bid Amsterdam, Barcelona, Los Angeles, Prague, and Rome for the host position. Finland’s long-distance runners put on such a show that they were nicknamed the “Flying Finns.”
The 1928 games introduced a 16-day schedule, the official name of “Summer Olympics,” and the first endorsed sponsorships (Coca-Cola, surprise, surprise). Uruguay defeated Argentina in soccer for the gold medal, bringing some long-overdue attention to South American football.
The Olympic games took a 12-year hiatus before and during World War II (the last prewar games were in Berlin in 1936). When they returned, they were dubbed the “Austerity Games” due to postwar rationing and the economy. Fifty-nine nations sent athletes to participate, and the star of the games was “The Flying Housewife,” a 30-year-old Dutch woman named Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four gold medals and broke major barriers during a time when women’s athletics received little attention.
The 1964 Olympics were the first games to be held in Asia. Judo, volleyball, and sumo wrestling were added to the competitions, and the games were (partially) broadcast in color. Weeks before the games began, Abebe Bikila (an Ethiopian marathon runner who won the gold medal in 1960, while barefoot) was hospitalized with appendicitis and was not expected to participate. He not only showed up and ran his race, but also won, becoming the first person to win two Olympic marathons.
The 1968 Olympics were the first games held in Latin America, and Mexico City’s high elevation took at toll on many of the athletes. At the same time, the Civil Rights Movement was underway in the United States. Hundreds of protesters, who were demanding justice for the recent Tlatelolco massacre (known as the Mexican Student Movement of 1968), were met with the force of the country’s military. The suspension of two American sprinters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who displayed solidarity with the Black Power Movement while receiving their gold and bronze medals, spoke to the nature of these summer games.
The 1972 Summer Olympics in Germany is remembered for the Munich Massacre, in which 11 Israeli athletes and a German policeman were killed. The games, however, continued. Frank Shorter, a German-born American, took the gold medal for the marathon.
Following the opening ceremony of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, a number of nations withdrew from the competition. Aside from China (which withdrew for other reasons), most of the boycotts were due to the Olympic Committee’s policies, which banned South Africa from the games and prevented the New Zealand rugby team (which had toured in South Africa during apartheid) from competing. In the end, only 92 nations competed.
The boycotts of the 1976 games were nothing compared to those that took place during the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Following the lead of the United States, 65 countries opted out of the games due to the nine-year Soviet-Afghan War. The number of participating nations was at a modern low (80), and a number of major broadcasters skipped coverage of the games completely. Not surprisingly, the Soviet Union won the most gold medals, and East Germany came in second.
By the time the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul rolled around, the number of athletes participating had more than tripled. While the games were still male-dominated, more than 2,100 women took part in the 1988 Olympics—and despite some controversy involving the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, Phoebe Mills made history as the first American female gymnast to win a medal.
The motto of the 1992 Olympics—“Friends Forever”—couldn’t have been more fitting. The games were the first in years to take place without boycotts. South Africa was allowed to participate, and after completing the women’s 10,000-meter event, Derartu Tulu, an Ethiopian runner, and Elana Meyer, a South African runner, held hands for a victory lap.
During the 1996 Summer Olympics, 197 nations participated and 24 countries (including 11 former-Soviet countries) made their first appearances in the games. The late Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch for the games.