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Olympic Art Competitions: 1928-1932

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Over the next two weeks, we’ll be taking a look back at the fine art competitions that originated in ancient Greece and were revived as part of the modern Olympics from 1912 to 1948.

Amsterdam Opening Ceremonies, 1928/

The 1928 Games in Amsterdam would be the first of the modern Olympiad without Baron Pierre de Coubertin running the show. Would the art competition survive without its primary proponent?

Carrying the Torch

The Amsterdam Organizing Committee took special care to carry on the tradition established by Coubertin, who retired as IOC president after the 1924 Games. J.W. Teillers of the Hague was tapped as Secretary of the Art Committee and was asked to take the lead in planning the art competition. Teillers was instrumental in convincing other countries to establish their own art committees to further promote participation in the contest.


Teillers orchestrated an important change to the structure of the art competition by breaking each of the five categories—Painting, Literature, Sculpture, Music and Architecture—into subdivisions. Beginning in 1928, the Literature competition, for instance, would accept submissions and award medals for three distinct types of works: lyrics and contemplative, dramatic, and epic. Similar divisions were added for the other four categories and Teillers drafted new regulations to reflect these changes.

U.S. Participation

According to the New York Times, the United States shipped more than 100 pieces of art to the 1928 Games under the honorary chairmanship of First Lady Grace Coolidge. “A special effort has been made to bring forward the American point of view and its development in sport,” said American Federation of the Arts member Charles H. Sherrill, who also served as a judge for the Architecture competition. “Particularly is this true in the architecture exhibit, in which will appear architectural plans and water color drawings of certain buildings for indoor sports, necessitated by our winters and unknown in Europe.” (The Americans failed to medal in the art competition at the 1928 Games.)

A Success

The roughly 1,100 pieces of art submitted were displayed by country in the Amsterdam Municipal Museum. While the judges were generally unimpressed with the quality of the entries in the dramatic literature and music categories, the art competition in Amsterdam was deemed superior to the one held in Paris four years earlier. In its official review, the IOC wrote, in part, “a more successful result than that attained could hardly be expected.”

Art Competitions in Hollywood

Los Angeles Olympic Village, 1932/Getty Images

The U.S. Olympic Committee began planning the art competition for the 1932 Los Angeles Games almost three years before the start of the opening ceremonies. According to Richard Stanton’s The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions, the art competition was the first event provided for in the USOC’s budget.

U.S. Customs Arrangement

According to Stanton, the IOC made an arrangement with the U.S. Customs Bureau to allow artwork shipped via the Panama Canal to enter free of duty or in bond. To further encourage participation, the U.S. Olympic Committee also offered to pay for transportation and insurance on the return trip. The art competition and a concurrent art exhibition were hosted in the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. About 30 countries were represented, though more than half of the 1,145 pieces submitted were from the United States.

Large and Dull

Not everyone was enamored with the art competition. In a scathing review for the New York Times, reporter Arthur Miller referred to them “as a sort of side show for the Olympic Games.” (With over 384,000 visitors during the course of the 1932 Games, it was a well-attended side show.) “The show, on the whole, is inept, and is saved from complete mediocrity by the two rowing pictures and one boxing scene by Thomas Eakins, the boxing sculpture by Mahonri Young, and the young athletes modeled by R. Tait Mackenzie,” Miller wrote. “…Either the good painters do not paint sports or the Olympic committees do not know art.” Young would win gold in the statue division and Mackenzie would win bronze in the reliefs and medallions division of the Sculpture category.

See Also: Olympic Art Competitions: 1916-1924

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The New Single-Medal Countries (and Two That Left the List)
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A few weeks ago, we gave you 21 countries that have only won a single Olympic medal. Now that the London Games are through, it's time to update our list with the countries that netted their first-ever medal this summer, and the two countries that have now moved into multiple medal territory.

First-time medals


Bahrain thought it had taken home its first medal in 2008, but runner Rashid Ramzi saw his gold medal in the men's 1,500 stripped a year later because of a doping violation. By taking the bronze in London in the women's 1,500 meter run, Maryam Yusuf Jamal has now finally ended the country's drought. Jamal was born in Ethiopia but fled and sought asylum in several countries before landing in Bahrain. She had also competed in the 2008 Olympics, where she placed fifth in the same event.


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Runner Nijel Amos won silver in the men's 800 meter, with the 18-year-old taking home the country's first medal after eight appearances. Fellow runner Amantle Montsho was also in contention for a medal in the women's 400 meter, but ultimately placed fourth.


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Pavlos Kontides was responsible for Cyprus' first medal when he took the bronze in men's laser sailing. Cyprus has been competing in every Olympics as an independent nation since 1980 and came close to a medal in 2008, when shooter Antonis Nikolaidis just missed the chance at a bronze in a shoot-off. Kontides told reporters that he guessed he "wrote [his] name in Cyprus sport in golden letters" and even got a personal phone call from the country's president after his medal was guaranteed.


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With a silver in taekwando, Anthony Obame became the first Gabonese athlete to medal. And while Obame was pleased with his achievement, he was frustrated about coming so close to gold -- he was leading Italian Carlo Molfetta in the closing minute of the final match, but ended up losing on a judge's decision after Molfetta tied it up.


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Grenada ended its medal drought in impressive fashion, with runner Kirani James taking the gold in the men's 400 meter with a 2012 world-leading record 43.94-second time. James, who in 2011 became the youngest world champion in the 400-meter at age 18, also made headlines in London when he exchanged bibs with Oscar Pistorius after their semifinal heat out of respect for the double-amputee's work.


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Erick Barrondo secured Guatemala's first medal with a silver in the men's 20-kilometer racewalk. Barrondo, who used to be a middle-distance runner before a knee injury directed him to racewalking, said he hoped his medal would inspire the nation's youth to stay away from gang violence and instead pursue athletics. In recognition of his medal, the Guatemalan legislature voted unanimously to make him a Knight of the Order of the Sovereign Congress and award him $64,000.


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Although Montenegrin athletes had won medals before, the country was only allowed to compete on its own starting in 2008, after winning independence from Serbia in 2006. This year, the country's women's handball team rallied the nation by winning a silver medal. The medal match actually marked the end of the career for handball star Bojana Popovic and teammate Maja Savic. And it's a good thing the women buoyed the nation's spirits -- there was widespread disappointment after the country's water polo team was bounced in the semifinals by Croatia.

New Multiple Medal Winners


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Four years after taking home the country's first ever medal, Afghan sports hero Rohullah Nikpai (above) doubled the medal count by winning a bronze in taekwando (he had also won a bronze in 2008). A second taekwando competitor from Afghanistan, Nesar Ahmad Bahawi, placed 5th in a higher weight class, despite competing in his final match with injuries that landed him in the hospital immediately afterwards.


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After some concern that Kuwait wouldn't even be able to send a delegation (the IOC had ruled that any Kuwaiti athlete would have to compete under the Olympic flag because of political interference in Kuwait, but overturned the ruling in July), the country added to its medal count. The victor was the same as in 2000 -- shooter Fehaid Al Deehani, who won the bronze in men's trap shooting. Al Deehani, who also won a bronze in 2000, is identified in his Olympics profile as a public servant, with the appropriate hobby of "hunting."

The rest of the single-medal countries

Barbados * Bermuda * Burundi * Djibouti * Eritrea * Guyana * Iraq * Ivory Coast * Republic of Macedonia * Mauritius * Netherlands Antilles * Niger * Paraguay * Senegal * Sudan * Togo * Tonga * United Arab Emirates * Virgin Islands

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Scenes From the 1908 London Olympic Marathon
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In honor of today's Olympic marathon, here's a look back at the origin of the race, plus an explanation of the whole ".2" business.

Olympic Marathon, 1908 London Games/

In 490 BC, a soldier named Pheidippides supposedly ran from the battlefield at Marathon to the city of Athens to alert the troops of a Greek victory. He then died of exhaustion, becoming the first of the estimated eight-per-1,000,000 marathon-related casualties.

While some scholars argue that the story of Pheidippides is merely historical myth, he does appear in a number of incidents in recorded history. Herodotus mentions a professional running courier named Pheidippides in his account of the Battle of Marathon, but says he ran from Athens to Sparta. Other historical accounts by Plutarch and Lucian in the 1st and 2nd centuries, respectively, tell the story of a runner by a different name who ran from Marathon to Athens.

Olympic Marathon, 1908 London Games/Getty Images

Our modern understanding of the figure comes from the 1878 poem “Pheidippides” by Robert Browning, which was most likely a composite of the runner mentioned by Herodotus and that of the two latter historians.

The modern marathon is entirely a creation of the organizers of the inaugural Athens Olympics in 1896, who used Pheidippides' legend as inspiration for a headline-grabbing gimmick. Runners followed a 24.85-mile (40-km) route beginning in Marathon and ending at the site of a stadium used in ancient times. This course was repeated in the 2004 Athens Olympics, and again in 2010 when 10,000 runners commemorated the 2,500th anniversary of Pheidippides’ trek. Cartographers and historians now theorize that his run was actually closer to 20 miles.

Why Is the Modern Marathon 26.2 Miles?

The 1908 Summer Games were initially awarded to Rome. There was concern that Italy wouldn’t be able to host the Olympics due to economic problems, but when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 1906 and the country needed to rebuild the ravaged area, the Italian government requested that the Games be relocated. London took on the challenge of setting up shop on short notice, and subsequently changed the marathon forever.

The British Royal Family wanted the race to begin beneath the windows of the nursery at Windsor Castle and finish opposite the royal viewing box at the Olympic stadium. A few hundred yards were tacked on to accommodate the request, and the marathon would later be standardized at that distance—26 miles and 385 yards.

More Photos From the 1908 London Olympic Marathon

Doctors examine athletes before the race.

Runners enter Windsor Castle for the start of the 1908 Olympic Marathon. Getty Images

And they're off! Getty Images

Spectators climb trees in Wormwood Scrubs for a better view. Getty Images

Dorando Pietri of Italy is leading as he approaches the end of the race. Getty Images

Dorando Pietri, on the verge of collapse, is helped across the finish line. He was subsequently disqualified. Getty Images

U.S. athlete Johnny Hayes finished second, but was declared the winner. Getty Images

Hayes is carried by teammates after his victory. Getty Images

Pietri of Italy is taken away in a stretcher. Getty Images

Queen Alexandra presents Pietri a special Gold Cup after he was disqualified. Getty Images

Pietri and his Gold Cup. Getty Images

Johnny Hayes (left) and Dorando Pietri. Getty Images


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