Design and Branding Trends: Olympic Games

Over the years of the modern Olympic era we have witnessed design take a forefront in the planning and execution of the event. It has seemingly gone from a casual, low key sporting event, with each venue taking their turn hosting, into a full scale media orgy of Superbowl proportions.

Cities have good reason to want to hold one of the the world’s greatest sporting events, with the potential economy boost, infrastructure developments and revitalized international attention, but for many cities hosting the Olympic games has been not always been a great success — in 1984 Los Angeles was the only city to make a bid for the games due to the massive cost overruns during the Montreal Games.

With the enormous costs that cities face to hold the games, more energy, and money, is being focused on branding in hopes at creating a memorable and rewarding event. Host countries now reach out to the best designers, architects, and artist, to create a spectacle the world will never forget, and the one symbol that will be plastered on the streets, merchandise, and computer and television screens across the globe: the logo. And while most designs have stuck close to the blue, yellow, black, green and red of the Olympic colors, we have begun to see new colors emerge from the more recent games, including the first logo to come in multiple colors, which will be seen in 2012.

Today were taking look at the Summer Olympic logos from 1896 to 2012 London along with some noteworthy facts from each games and palette inspiration from some of the more colorful posters and logos. For more info about each year of the Olympics, click on the corresponding image.

Olympic Design

athens_1896_report_cover.jpg     1896 Athens, Greece

The 1896 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event which was celebrated in Athens, Greece, from April 6 to April 15, 1896. It was the first Olympic Games held in the Modern era. Ancient Greece was the birthplace of the Olympic Games, consequently Athens was perceived to be an appropriate choice to stage the inaugural modern Games. It was unanimously chosen as the host city during a congress organized by Pierre de Coubertin, a French pedagogue and historian, in Paris, on June 23, 1894. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was also established during this congress.


paris_1900_olympics_games_poster.jpg     1900 Paris, France

* No opening or closing ceremonies were held but competitions began on May 14 and ended on October 28. The Games were held as part of the 1900 World’s Fair. Over a thousand competitors took part in 19 different sports. Women took part in the games for the first time and Charlotte Cooper became the first female Olympic champion. The decision to hold competitions on a Sunday brought protests from many American athletes, who traveled as representatives of their colleges and were expected to withdraw rather than compete on the sabbath.

* Some unusual events were contested for the first and only time in the history of the Games. The equestrian high and long jumps, swimming obstacle race, two-day cricket and live pigeon shooting being foremost among them.


370px-1904summerolympicsposter.jpg     1904 Summer Olympics

* First games at which gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded for first, second and third place.
* European tension caused by the Russo-Japanese War and the difficulty of getting to St. Louis kept many of the world’s top athletes away.
* In a number of sports, because there were no competitors from other nations, the U.S. national championship was combined with the Olympic championship (and other events such as a local YMCA swim competition).
* Boxing, dumbbells, freestyle wrestling, and the decathlon made their debuts.
* One of the most remarkable athletes was the American gymnast George Eyser, who won six medals even though his left leg was made of wood.



1908 London, UK

* The games were surrounded by controversy. On opening day, following the practice introduced at the Intercalated Games of 1906, teams paraded behind national flags. However, the arrangement caused complications:
* The Finnish team were expected to march under the Russian rather than Finnish flag, so many chose to march without a flag at all.
* The Swedish flag had not been displayed above the stadium, so the members of the Swedish team decided not to take part in the ceremony.
* The United States flag had also not been displayed above the stadium before the opening so the United States’ flag bearer refused to dip the flag to the royal box. Though the flag was later dipped in the collective greeting of the royal family, Martin Sheridan, American team captain, explained that “This flag dips to no earthly king.” Despite international customs that encourage dipping the flag in respect to heads of state, since 1908 US flag bearers have not done so.



1912 Stockholm, Sweden

* For the first time, competitors in the Games came from all five continents symbolized in the Olympic rings. Also for the first time since 1896, all athletic events were held within a reasonably short time span of about one month, from late June to late July (though the opening ceremony was still held much earlier). It was the last time that solid gold medals were awarded; modern medals are usually gold plated silver.

* A Greco-Roman Wrestling bout between Klein and Asikainen lasted 11 hours and forty minutes—the world’s longest wrestling match. After Klein finally took the victory, he was too tired to compete in the final. Thus Johansson, the other wrestler to make the final-three to determine the medals, whose only loss in the elimination rounds had been the double loss to Asikainen, became the gold medalist.
* Women’s events in swimming and diving were introduced.



1920 Antwerp, Belgium

* The 1916 Summer Olympics, to be held in Berlin, capital of the German Empire, were canceled due to the war. The aftermath of the war and the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 affected the Olympic Games not only due to new states being created, but also by sanctions against the nations that lost the war and were blamed for starting it.
* Budapest had initially been selected to host the Games over Amsterdam and Lyon, but as the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been a German ally in the First World War, the Games were transferred to Antwerp in April 1919. Hungary, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey were also banned from competing in the Games. Germany remained banned until 1925, and instead hosted a series of games called Deutsche Kampfspiele, starting with the Winter edition of 1922 (which predated the first Winter Olympics).
* In a unique moment in Olympic history, the 12-foot dinghy event in sailing was held in two different countries. The final two races in the event were held in the Netherlands, as the only two competitors in the event were Dutch.



1924 Paris, France

* The opening ceremony and several sporting events took place in the Olympic Stadium of Colombes which had a capacity of 45,000 in 1924.
* This VIII Olympiad was the last one organised under the presidency of Pierre de Coubertin.
* The “Flying Finns” dominated the long distance running, whilst the British and Americans dominated the shorter events. Paavo Nurmi won the 1500 m and 5000 m (which were held with only an hour between them) and the cross country run. Ville Ritola won the 10000 m and the 3000 m steeplechase, while finishing second to Nurmi on the 5000 m and cross country. Albin Stenroos won the marathon, while the Finnish team (with Nurmi and Ritola) was victorious in the 3000 m and cross country team events.
* British runners Harold Abrahams won the 100 m and Eric Liddell the 400 m. Their stories are depicted in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire. In addition Douglas Lowe won the 800 m competition.



1928 Amsterdam, Netherlands

* For the first time, the Olympic Flame was lit during the Olympics. The torch relay, however, would not occur until the 1936 Summer Olympics.
* For the first time, the parade of nations started with Greece, which holds the origins of the Olympics, and ended with the host country, a tradition which continues today.
* The Games were officially opened by Prince Hendrik, consort of Queen Wilhelmina, who had authorised him to deputise for her. This was the first time a head of state had not personally officiated at an Olympic opening ceremony. She refused to return early from her holiday in Norway to open the Games herself, because she was furious at the organizing committee for not consulting with her about the opening date.
* Athletics events were held on a 400 metre track and would become the standard for athletics tracks.



1932 Los Angeles, California

* Held during the worldwide Great Depression, many nations and athletes were unable to pay for the trip to Los Angeles. Fewer than half the participants of the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam returned to compete in 1932. U.S. President Herbert Hoover did not attend the Games, becoming the first sitting head of government to not appear at an Olympics hosted in that country.
* An Olympic Village was built for the first time, in the Baldwin Hills, occupied by the male athletes.[2] Female athletes were housed at the Chapman Park Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard.
* The first use of a victory podium.
* Mahatma Gandhi took part in the games as a press reporter.



1936 Berlin, Germany

* By allowing only members of the “Aryan” race to compete for Germany, Hitler further promoted his ideological belief of racial supremacy. At the same time, the party removed signs stating “Jews not wanted” and similar slogans from the city’s main tourist attractions. In an attempt to “clean up” Berlin, the German Ministry of Interior authorized the chief of police to arrest all Romani (Gypsies) and keep them in a special camp.
* Jesse Owens’s participation in the Olympics was controversial due to his race, at a time when segregation and discrimination against blacks were the norm in much of the United States. However, once in Berlin, Owens was able to freely use public transportation and enter bars and other public facilities without the difficulty he would face as a black man in the United States. German crowds adored Owens, and he forged a long-term friendship with German competitor Luz Long



1948 London, England

Olympic pictograms were introduced for the first time. There were twenty of them — one for each Olympic sport and three separate pictograms for the arts competition, the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony. They were called “Olympic symbols” and intended for the use on tickets. The background of each pictogram resembled escutcheon. Olympic pictograms would appear again 16 years later and be featured at each Summer Olympics thereafter.



1952 Helsinki, Finland

* To the enjoyment of the Finnish crowd, the Olympic Flame was lit by two Finnish heroes, runners Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen.
* For the first time, a team from the Soviet Union participated in the Olympics. The first gold medal for the USSR was won by Nina Romashkova in the women’s Discus Throwing event, and the Soviet women’s gymnastics team won the first of its eight consecutive gold medals.
* Israel made its Olympic debut. The Jewish state had been unable to participate in the 1948 Games because of its War of Independence. A previous Palestine Mandate team had boycotted the 1936 Games in protest of the Nazi regime.
* The Republic of China (Chinese Taipei/Taiwan), listed as “China (Formosa)”, withdrew from the Games on July 20, in protest of the allowing of the People’s Republic of China’s men and women to compete.



1956 Melbourne, Australia

*Many members of the IOC were sceptical about Melbourne as an appropriate site. Its location in the Southern Hemisphere was a major concern, since the reversal of seasons would mean the Games were held during the northern winter. This was thought likely to inconvenience athletes from the Northern Hemisphere who were accustomed to resting during their winter.

* Melbourne was selected, in 1949, to host the 1956 Olympics by a one-vote margin. The first sign of trouble was the revelation that Australian equine quarantine would prevent the country from hosting the equestrian events. Stockholm was selected as the alternate site, so equestrian competition began on June 10, five and a half months before the rest of the Olympic games were to open, half the world away.



1960 Rome, Italy

* Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia won the marathon bare-footed to become the first black African Olympic champion.
* Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, won boxing’s light-heavyweight gold medal.
South Africa appeared in the Olympic arena for the last time under its apartheid regime. It would not be allowed to return until 1992, after the abandonment of apartheid and during the transition to majority rule.
Singapore competed for the first time under its own flag, which was to become its national flag after independence, as the British had granted it self government a year earlier. Coincidentally, it was the first and to date only time an athlete from Singapore won an Olympic medal, when Tan Howe Liang won silver in the Weightlifting lightweight category.
* Soviet gymnasts won 15 of 16 possible medals in women’s gymnastics


tokyo-1964.jpg     1964 Tokyo, Japan

* The 1964 Summer games marked the first time the Olympics were held by a non-Western nation. This was the first Olympics in which South Africa was barred from taking part due to its refusal to racially desegregate its sports.
* Yūji Koseki composed the theme song of the opening ceremony.
* Judo and volleyball, both popular sports in Japan, were introduced to the Olympics.


815929019_08f0edfbb2_o.jpg     1968 Mexico City

* The Games were preceded by the Tlatelolco massacre, in which hundreds of students were killed by security forces ten days before the opening day. It is the only Games ever held in Latin America, and it was the second ever outside of Europe, Australia, or the USA.
* In the 200 m medal award ceremony, two African-American athletes Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze) raised their black-gloved fists as a symbol of Black Power. Australian Peter Norman, who had run second, wore a civil rights badge as support on the podium. As punishment, the International Olympic Committee banned Smith and Carlos from the Olympic Games for life, and Norman was left out of the Australian 1972 Olympic team, possibly as backlash.
* The introduction of doping tests resulted in the first disqualification because of doping: Swedish pentathlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall was disqualified for alcohol use (he drank several beers prior).
* John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania became internationally famous after finishing the marathon, in last place, despite a dislocated knee.


816805112_df91d45df8_o.jpg     1972 Munich, Germany

The Munich Olympics were intended to present a new, democratic and optimistic Germany to the world, as shown by its official motto, “the Happy Games”. The emblem of the Games was a blue solar logo (the “Bright Sun”). The Olympic mascot, the dachshund “Waldi”, was the first officially named Olympic mascot. The games also saw the introduction of the now universal sports pictograms designed by Otl Aicher. However, this joyful mood was ruined by the killings of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists in an event known as the Munich massacre.



1976 Montreal, Canada

* After a rainstorm doused the Olympic flame a few days after the games had opened, an official relit the flame using his cigarette lighter. Organizers quickly doused it again and relit it using a backup of the original flame.
* The Republic of China (Taiwan) team withdrew after Canada informed it that it could not compete under the name “Republic of China”. This was done because Canada officially recognized the People’s Republic of China. Canada did try to compromise by saying that the people of the Republic of China could retain their national flag and anthem, but they refused.
* Japanese gymnast Shun Fujimoto performed on a broken right knee, and helped the Japanese team win the gold medal for the team championship. Fujimoto broke his leg on the floor exercise, and due to the closeness in the overall standings with the USSR, he hid the extent of the injury. With a broken knee, Fujimoto was able to complete his event on the rings, performing a perfect triple somersault dismount, maintaining perfect posture. He scored a 9.7 thus securing gold for Japan. Years later, when asked if he would do it again, he stated bluntly “No, I would not.



1980 Moscow, U.S.S.R.

* Although approximately half of the 24 countries which boycotted the 1976 Summer Olympics participated in these, the Games were disrupted by another, even larger, boycott led by the United States followed by 60 other countries in protest of the 1979 Soviet war in Afghanistan.
* 21% of the competitors were female — a higher percentage than at any previous Olympics.
* There were 203 events — more than at any previous Olympics.



1984 Los Angeles, California

* Los Angeles was selected on May 18, 1978 on the 79th IOC session at Athens, Greece, without voting, because it was the only city that entered a bid to host the 1984 Summer Olympics.
* In view of the American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, the Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics caused 14 Eastern Bloc countries and allies including the Soviet Union, Cuba and East Germany (but not Romania) to boycott these Olympics. For differing reasons, Iran and Libya also boycotted.
* Carl Lewis makes his first of four appearances in the Olympics, and equals the performance of Jesse Owens of 1936 and wins four gold medals in the 100 m, 200 m, 4×100 m relay and the Long Jump.
* The first gold medal to be awarded at the Los Angeles Olympics was also the first-ever medal to be won by an athlete from China when Xu Haifeng won the 50 m Pistol event
* Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco becomes the first female Olympic champion of an Islamic nation, and the first of her country in the 400 m hurdles.
* Following the IOC agreement to designate the Republic of China (Taiwan) Chinese Taipei, the People’s Republic of China appears in the Olympics as China and wins 15 gold medals. In weightlifting, athletes from the Chinese Taipei and China teams win medals at the same event.



    1988 Seoul, S. Korea

* North Korea, still officially at war with South Korea, boycotted the event. Cuba, Ethiopia and Nicaragua joined the boycott. However, the much larger boycotts seen in the previous three Olympics were avoided, resulting in the largest ever number of participating nations to that date.
* Canadian Ben Johnson wins the 100 m in a new world record, but is disqualified after he tested positive for stanozolol. In 2004, Johnson accused the American sports authorities of protecting American athletes at the expense of foreign ones. He still claims to this day that André Jackson, “the Mystery Man” put the stanozolol in his food or his drink.
* Table tennis is introduced at the Olympics, with China and South Korea both winning two titles.



1992 Barcelona, Spain

* In basketball, the admittance of professional players led to the American Dream Team, with players like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Larry Bird.
* South Africa was allowed again to participate in the Olympics after a 28 years suspension in the Olympic Games for its apartheid policy. White South African runner Elana Meyer and black Ethiopian runner Derartu Tulu fought out a great battle in the 10,000 m (won by Tulu) and then ran their lap of honour hand in hand.
* Following the German Reunification in 1990, Germany participated with a single team for the first time since 1960.
* As the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania participated with their own teams for the first time since 1936.
* After being demonstrated six times, baseball became an Olympic sport, with Cuba winning the gold medal, Chinese Taipei winning silver, and Japan, the bronze.



1996 Atlanta, Georgia

* At the age of 35, Carl Lewis takes his 4th long jump gold medal. Lewis, Paavo Nurmi, and Mark Spitz are now tied for second-most Olympic gold medals (9), only Michael Phelps (14) has more.
* Palestine was allowed to compete in the Olympics for the first time.
* A record 197 nations, all current IOC member nations, take part, with a record 79 of them winning at least one medal.


816809412_c6590afc7d_o.jpg     2000 Sydney, Aus

* 199 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) participated in the Sydney Games, two more than in 1996 Summer Olympics.
* Afghanistan was the only 1996 participant that did not participate in 2000, having been banned due to the extremist rule of the Taliban’s oppression of women.
* The bid logo featured a stylized image of the Sydney Opera House, whilst the official logo featured the stylized image of a runner in motion and was designed by FHA Image Design.



2004 Athens, Greece

* Athens 2004 marked the first time since the 1896 Summer Olympics that all countries with a National Olympic Committee were in attendance. It was also the first time since 1896 that the Olympics were to be hosted in the country the event originated from.
* For the first time, major broadcasters were allowed to serve video coverage of the Olympics over the Internet, provided that they restricted this service geographically, to protect broadcasting contracts in other areas.
* The widely praised Opening Ceremony by avant garde choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou held on August 13, 2004 began with a twenty eight (the number of the Olympiads up to then) second countdown paced by the sounds of an amplified heartbeat.[10] As the countdown was completed, fireworks rumbled and illuminated the skies overhead. After a drum corp and bouzouki players joined in an opening march, the video screen showed images of flight, crossing southwest from Athens over the Greek countryside to ancient Olympia. Then, a single drummer in the ancient stadium joined in a drum duel with a single drummer in the main stadium in Athens, joining the original ancient Olympic games with the modern ones in symbolism. At the end of the drum duet, a single flaming arrow was launched from the video screen (symbolically from ancient Olympia) and into the reflecting pool, which resulted in fire erupting in the middle of the stadium creating a burning image of the Olympic rings rising from the pool.



2008 Beijing, China

* The official logo of the games, titled “Dancing Beijing,” features a stylised calligraphic character jīng (京, meaning capital), referring to the host city. The mascots of Beijing 2008 are the five Fuwa, each representing both a colour of the Olympic rings and a symbol of Chinese culture. The Olympic slogan, One World, One Dream, calls upon the world to unite in the Olympic spirit. Several new NOCs have also been recognised by the IOC.
* The Chinese government has promoted the games to highlight China’s emergence on the world stage and has invested heavily in new facilities and transportation systems.
* The number 8 is associated with prosperity and confidence in Chinese culture. The ceremony was co-directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou and Chinese choreographer Zhang Jigang. It featured a cast of over 15,000 performers, and was dubbed beforehand as “the most spectacular Olympics Opening Ceremony ever produced”.
* A variety of concerns over the games have been expressed by various entities; including allegations that China violated its pledge to allow open media access, various alleged human rights violations, air pollution in both the city of Beijing and in neighbouring areas, proposed boycotts, warnings of the possibility that the Beijing Olympics could be targeted by terrorist groups, foiled sabotage attempt, potentially violent disruption from pro-Tibetan protesters, the banning of ethnic Tibetans from working in Beijing for the duration of the games,criticisms of policies mandating the electronic surveillance of internationally owned hotels, displacement of residents, and ticket adversities.


670554030_a5fff43352_o.jpg     2012 London, UK

* London will become the first city to host the modern Olympic Games three times.
* The logo is a representation of the number 2012, with the Olympic Rings embedded within the zero. The logo is available in a number of colors.
* The logo is the first in Olympic history to be able to use a variety of colours. The standard colours included green, magenta and blue, however the logo has incorporated a variety of colours, including the Union Flag to promote the handover ceremony. Sponsors have also incorporated their company colours in the logo, notable examples include Lloyds TSB and Adidas.



Author: evad
David Sommers has been loving color as COLOURlovers' Blog Editor-in-Chief for the past two years. When he's not neck deep in a rainbow he's loving other things with The Post Family (, a Chicago-based art blog, artist collective & gallery.

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