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Olympic Art Competitions: 1936-1948

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We're 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.

Berlin, 1936/

When Adolf Hitler assumed power in January 1933, the future of the 1936 Berlin Games was suddenly in doubt. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister for Public Education and Propaganda, convinced the chancellor that the Games were an opportunity to shape Nazi Germany’s image and showcase the country’s athletic prowess and shape. The 1936 Games would go on as planned.

German Art Committee

One of the changes the German Art Committee proposed for the 1936 Olympic art competition was the addition of a Works of the Screen category. Berlin Organizing Committee president Theodor Lewald proposed the idea in a letter to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who had continued to serve as an honorary head of the IOC following his retirement as president in 1924. Coubertin respectfully denied the proposal, which would have welcomed “purely documentary films and films of general propaganda” and excluded theatrical submissions. The IOC also denied requests to add dance and creative gold and silver smithing to the program.

International Dance Festival

Germany moved ahead with plans to host a dance competition concurrent with the Games.

Legendary American modern dancer Martha Graham was invited, but she declined. “So many artists whom I respect and admire have been persecuted, have been deprived of their right to work, and for such unsatisfactory and ridiculous reasons, that I should consider it impossible to identify myself, by accepting the invitation, with the regime that has made such things possible,” Graham wrote. The proposed competition became an international dance festival, with every participant awarded a diploma.

Participation and a Concert

Spain and the Soviet Union boycotted the Games and low participation numbers in the art competition from other countries prompted Germany to extend the deadlines for submitting works. The 1936 art competition featured roughly half the total number of entries that had been submitted in previous years, but managed to attract 70,000 visitors. According to Richard Stanton, author of The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions, Germany considered building a full-scale model of the Temple of Zeus to serve as the entrance to the art exhibition, but the plan was scrapped due to budget concerns. In a move that must have delighted Coubertin, Germany arranged for several of the medal-winning music compositions to be performed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert at the end of the Games.

World War II Cancels Games

The 1940 Games were scheduled for Tokyo, moved to Helsinki in 1938 and then canceled entirely when the Soviet Union invaded Finland in late 1939. World War II also led to the cancellation of the 1944 Games, which were to be held in London.

Back on Track

London, 1948/Getty Images

The British didn’t have to wait long for another chance to host the Olympics. The 1948 Games were held in London, and while there was some debate as to whether Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union and Japan should be invited to the party, there was near unanimous agreement that the Games would feature an art competition. (Germany and Japan were barred from participating, while the Soviets declined the invitation.)

Mixed Interest

Some countries took great interest in the 1948 art competition. Canada and Italy, for instance, staged national art competitions the year before the Games to determine the pieces that would be submitted to London. The United States, in contrast, chose not to participate. According to the IOC’s official report, the decision was based on “a lack of interest by the American artists in the art section at the Berlin Games in 1936.”

Recommendations

After the 1948 art competition, which was held in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Fine Arts Committee put together a report with recommendations for future organizers. The committee’s proposals ranged from the specific (oil paintings should be judged separately from watercolors and drawings) to the general (strengthen the connection between the artistic and the athletic components of the Games). The official review of the Games, which Stanton documents in his book, declared, “sporting art no longer plays the part of a Cinderella.”

See Also: Olympic Art Competitions: 1916-1924, 1928-1932

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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

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.

Botswana

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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.

Cyprus

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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.

Gabon

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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.

Grenada

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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.

Guatemala

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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.

Montenegro

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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

Afghanistan

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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.

Kuwait

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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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