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The Most Spectacular Photographs in Olympic Games History

We take a look at the best photographs from each summer Olympic Games throughout history.

By Greta Mayr
June 20, 2012

The Most Spectacular Photographs in Olympic Games History

We take a look at the best photographs from each summer Olympic Games throughout history.

By Greta Mayr
June 20, 2012

The Olympic Games bring nations together in a worldwide contest of sport and competition. But the Olympics do much more than this too by providing an arena for remarkable triumphs, terrible failures, true perseverance and utter determination. Even through devastating wars, ongoing global conflicts, drastic terrorism acts and natural disasters, nations of the world have managed to unite (almost) every four years for over a century in a demonstration of friendly competition and unity.

With the approaching London Olympics, it got us thinking about the spectacular images from past Olympic Games — photos that make you think, laugh, cringe or cry.

Here is our pick of the best photographs from each summer Olympic Games throughout history.

Athens 1896 - The Starting Gun Fires

The first international Olympic Games to be held in the modern era. Being the 'birthplace of the Olympic Games', Athens was a suitable first venue. Athletics events obtained the most international field of the sports on offer, with the major highlight being the marathon; this was the first time the event had been held in international competition.

Paris 1900 - Women Compete for the First Time

Women donned their sporting caps and get-ups (apparently dresses in those days) for the first time at an international sporting event in Paris in 1900, with Charlotte Cooper being crowned the first female Olympic champion. 1000 competitors took part in 19 sports at these Games, which was held during the 1900 World's Fair.

St. Louis 1904 - 3rd Time Not Such a Charm

The St. Louis Olympic Games almost became the last due to such poor management. Making the same mistake as Paris did four years earlier, the World's Fair was run at the same time, causing audience members to be lost to other cultural exhibitions and events. Many athletes were also a no-show due to the Russo-Japanese War.

London 1908 - Kings, Queens and Cramming

London only had a short amount of time to ready themselves for these games as the original location, Rome, had to focus funds on restoring Naples following the destruction of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius two years earlier. The London games saw the setting of the new official distance for the marathon; in an attempt to restore the importance of the monarchy, British officials changed the track to start below the window of the Royal Nursery and finish in front of the King.

Stockholm 1912 - Women's Gymnastics

The Olympic Games in 1912 was the year of many firsts - and one last. The final Games to issue solid gold medals, Stockholm also held the first Olympics to have art competitions, the first to feature the decathlon and pentathlon, the first to have an Asian nation participate (Japan), and the first death during competition after Portuguese competitor, Francisco Lazaro, died from hyperthermia in the marathon. The Games also had a whopping 48 women compete (most of which appear to be in the Norwegian's Gymnastics team above).

Berlin 1916 - A No-Show

The Olympics were due to take place in Berlin in 1916, and it was expected to be a grand affair with the development of the new 'Deutsches Stadion'. The stadium was released with a parade, 10,000 pigeons and 60,000 people. If only they could get that many people to turn up to the real event though, because the Games didn't go ahead in this year due to the turmoil embroiling Europe at the time with the outbreak 0f the Second World War.

Antwerp 1920 - Return to the Stadium

The Games of the VII Olympiad were offered to Antwerp to honour the suffering the citizens had endured during World War I. The Games had originally been set to appear in Budapest, however as a German ally, Hungary, and many other nations such as Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Turkey, was banned from competing. France appeared strong in the games, as is evident through Suzanne Lenglen's valiant effort on the tennis court.

Paris 1924 - The Old Switcheroo

Known as 'The Flying Scot', Britain's Golden Boy, Eric Liddell, stubbornly refused to take place in the 100m finals, as the event was to take place on a Sunday. The devout Christian thus decided to simply swap events in favour of the 400m sprint, ignoring the vast differences in distances and strategies. Despite the public's low expectations of his abilities, Liddell managed to not only win the competition, but also tied the Olympic record.

Amsterdam 1928 - Jumping for Joy

After being denied the ability to play host to the Games in both 1920 and 1924, the Olympics were finally celebrated in Holland in 1928. This was the first games to have an Olympic flame lit during the event and was also the first time that 400m athletics tracks were used.

Los Angeles 1932 - Jumping Hurdles

Mildred Zaharias wasn't the only one overcoming hurdles and breaking records in 1932, with California attempting to look past the worldwide Great Depression plaguing the globe at the time. These Summer Olympics held less than half the number of participants that competed in its previous location, Amsterdam, because many nations were unable to pay for the trip to Los Angeles. However, this didn't seem to impact the US too negatively as newspapers reported that the Games nevertheless reaped a profit of US$1,000,000.

Berlin 1936 - Showing Off

After being denied their chance to host the games in 1916, Berlin gained a second opportunity in 1936. The games were held on the eve of the Nazi Regime's rise to power in Germany, which occurred two years later. In an attempt to outdo the Los Angeles Olympics four years prior, the Nazis built a new 100,000 seat track and field stadium, six gymnasiums and many other small arenas.

London 1948 - Third Time is a Charm

After the Games were cancelled in Tokyo in 1940 and again London in 1944 (due to the Second World War), the Olympics finally returned to the world stage in 1948. Due to the destruction the war had caused in Europe, the games became known as the 'Austerity Games'. No new venues were built for the games and rather than being housed in an Olympic VIllage, athletes were housed in existing accommodation.

Helsinki 1952 - A Record Breaking Event

Known for being the games in which the most number of records were broken (until the 2008 Olympics in Beijing that is), Helsinki also saw the return and first appearance of a large number of nations. A total of 69 nations competed in the games, a figure 59 higher than that of the 1948 Games. Japan and Germany both appeared this time, along with 13 totally new nations such as The People's Republic of China and the USSR.

Melbourne 1956 - Exceeding Expectations

Melbourne was selected by a mere one vote margin and many were skeptical of its suitability as the reversal of seasons would mean that athletes would be unaccustomed to the wintery weather at the Summer Games. The Games proved to be a success and later became known as the 'Friendly Games'. Betty Cuthbert (above) was a star for the Australian nation by securing three gold medals, in the 100m, 200m & 4 x 100m sprint relay.

Rome 1960 - Frozen in Time

After emerging from the quarter and semi-finals of the 100m with the quickest times, German Armin Hary jumped the gun by false-starting twice in the finals. By the third, time, he seemed to have honed his panther-like reflexes to run a speedy 10.2 second and take out the Gold Medal.

Tokyo 1964 - Savvy Games

The Olympic Games held in the Tokyo in 1964 were the first Olympics to be telecast internationally without the need for tapes to be flown overseas, as was required previously. They were also the first games in which South Africa was barred from participating due to its apartheid system.

Mexico City 1968 - Black Power

Although you've probably seen this image a thousand times, the use of sport for making overt political statements and to become a vehicle for change, which is embodied in this photo, cannot be ignored. The Black Power Salute, made by African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968, was a contentious gesture. Ostracised at the time, their demonstration only became recognised as a demonstration for dignity years later.

Munich 1972 - Shadows

The Games in Munich were largely overshadowed by the Munich Massacre, in which eleven Isreali athletes and coaches, a West German Police Officer and five terrorists were killed. Despite the event, the West German Government was determined to present a new democratic government, after the last games held in Germany was under the Nazi Regime. To this aim, the official motto of the games became 'the Happy Games'.

Montreal 1976 - A Perfect Performance

Romanian Gymnast Nadia Comaneci made Olympic history in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal by becoming the first female gymnast to ever be awarded a perfect score of 10 for her wondrous display on the uneven bars. Comaneci was also the the first Romanian gymnast to win the all-round event and was only 14 at the time - no wonder she appears to be floating on air.

Moscow 1980 - Boycott

Because of the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, the United States and a number of other countries boycotted the games in Moscow. As a result the games garnered a mere 80 participating nations, the smallest number since the 1956 Olympics. All in all a fairly non-eventful Games evidently.

Los Angeles 1984 - Yep, another Boycott

In retaliation to America's boycott four years prior, this time the Eastern Bloc nations boycotted the games. Seems like the fighting fire with fire approach is being employed here.

Seoul 1988 - Cracking Under Pressure

In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the world's best diver at the time. Greg Louganis seemed to crack under the pressure - and that's not the only thing he cracked. In his attempt to complete a reverse 2 and a 1/2 pike somersault, the diver didn't get enough distance from the board and hit his head on the board, requiring temporary sutures.

Barcelona 1992 - A Family Affair

Renowned 400 metre sprinter Derek Redmond tragically tore a hamstring in the middle of the semi-final race at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. However, after his father tore past the security to go to his son's aid, Redmond was able to fight through the pain to complete a full lap, finishing with a standing ovation from the crowd.

Atlanta 1996 - A Bombshell of an Olympics

In the middle of the Atlanta Games in 1996, Eric Rudolph conducted his first of four terrorist bombings, killing two people and injuring 111. Rudolph bombed the Centennial Olympic Park, which was designed as the 'town square' of the Olympics.

Sydney 2000 - Controversial Cathy

Making the history books, Freeman brought glory to the Australian population by claiming the title of winner of the 400m track event. She was only the second ever Australian Aboriginal Olympic Champion. Following the race, the sprinter proceeded to (somewhat controversially and against Olympic norms) take a victor lap carrying both the Aboriginal and Australian flags.

Athens 2004 - Making Waves

Charnvudth Saensri of Thailand made waves with his strong stroke in the men's swimming 1500 metre freestyle heat in Athens. (Ok he didn't do that well but you can't go past the beauty of the photograph and his sheer determination).

Beijing 2008 - As Fast as a Bolt

Despite unfavourable wind conditions, Usain Bolt smashed through the 100m sprint world record with a swift 9.69 seconds. If that wasn't enough Bolt then went on to win gold and set another world record in the 200m. This made Bolt the first sprinter to ever break both records at the same Olympics.

Published on June 20, 2012 by Greta Mayr

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