A selection of 10 Olympics poster designs through history

Ahead of Rio 2016, a look at some posters and logos from the past 120 years of the games


Rio 2016’s logo may have been inspired by Henri Matisse’s ‘The Dance’
Rio 2016’s logo may have been inspired by Henri Matisse’s ‘The Dance’

The modern Olympic games started in 1896 in Athens, Greece with athletes from 14 participating countries. With the Rio Olympics starting in just about a week from now, we take a look at some of the logos and posters from over the 120 years since the modern Olympic games first started.

1896 Athens, Greece.

Officially, there was no poster for the 1896 games. This though is the cover page of official reports during the games and has since been used as a referential image. A sketch of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, skill and strength is shown holding kotinos, a wreath made of a branch of a wild olive tree. Kotinos was considered a symbol of peace and victory to be handed to the winners of athletics as well as poetic meets.

1900 Paris, France

This interesting poster depicts a female fencer in all black, and heels no less!

1912 Stockholm, Sweden

Flags of different countries flutter around muscular, nude bodies representing the athleticism of the human form from different parts of the world, coming together at the Olympic games. A tinge of Platonic homoeroticism comes through in this poster.

1948 London, Great Britain

Due to the post-war economy and rationing, this edition of the Olympics was referred to as the ‘Austerity Games’. Would this have called for a representation of the Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament—London’s power corridors?

1964 Tokyo, Japan

The sun in the Japanese flag combined with the Olympic rings exhibits both probably for the first time on Olympics posters, a minimalist and modernist sensibility.

1968 Mexico City, Mexico

The loopy logo full of lines flows itself onto a bigger, loopier, and more psychedelic black and white poster, reminiscent of the Huichol Indians’ traditional patterns and art.

1984 Los Angeles

The star-in-motion gives a classic “American” feel.

2000 Sydney, Australia

One of our favourites, just for the number of obvious “Australian” elements that work themselves into a simple design: an athlete made of boomerangs for the Sydney Olympics. Notice how the torch flame resembles the Opera House.

2004 Athens, Greece

The beautiful olive wreath makes a comeback after 1896, in a modern, slightly casual avatar that dons Greece’s national colours.

And finally,

2016 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

With a bespoke brushstroke typeface and an abstract reference in the logo to Pão de Açúcar or Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio, this logo has come under fire with charges of plagiarism. Observers have also pointed out that the logo may have been inspired by Henri Matisse’s The Dance.

Type Writer is a fortnightly design blog on typefaces, facia, visuals, and packaging.

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