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1896 - 2024
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In 2021, the world’s eyes turn to Tokyo, the city hosting the the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
So here are a few of the highlights and milestones in the Games’ history so far.
  • A century’s
    worth of universal
    values and symbols

    that have made their mark on sports and on humankind’s history since 1896.

  • 1 / 12

    The rings,
    the visual ambassadors of Olympism

    The interlaced rings, originally designed by Pierre de Coubertin, have become the symbol of the Olympic movement’s activity, the union of five continents and the athletes from around the world gathering for the Olympic Games.
    The five rings on a white background first appeared on the Olympic flag hoisted at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp.

  • General view of the Antwerp 1920 opening ceremonies in Belgium.
    Credit: Getty Images
  • 2 / 12

    The Agitos, symbols of the Paralympic Games since 2004

    Each Agito (Latin for “I move”) symbolises movement and never giving up, as well as the inspiration and excitement created by the Paralympic athletes’ performances.

  • The IPC flag during the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games.
    Credit: Getty – Chung Sung-Jun
  • 3 / 12

    The flame,
    the Olympic ceremony’s heart

    The flame is a fundamental symbol in Olympic ceremonial : the Games begin when the Olympic cauldron is lit and end when it is extinguished. The flame was first lit for the first time at the Amsterdam 1928 Games. A few years later, the torch relay starting from Olympia, and the cauldron lighting were included as part as Olympic ceremonies by the IOC, upon suggestion from the Berlin 1936 Organising Committee.

  • Flame lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece for the Pyongyang Games in 2018.
    Credit: Getty - Milos Bicanski
  • 4 / 12

    The Paralympic flame

    The Paralympic flame is for everyone — the accumulation of everyone’s passion for the Paralympic Games generates the flame. The very first Paralympic Torch Relay was held in Seoul for the 1988 Paralympic Games; 282 runners covered a route of 105 km.

  • The Agitos in front of the flame after the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
    Credit: Getty – Harry Engels
  • 5 / 12

    The Olympic Hymn

    The Olympic Hymn was written by Spyridon Samaras (music) and Kostis Palamas (lyrics), two of Greece’s most prominent artists at the end of the 19th century. The IOC unanimously adopted this original composition as the official Olympic Anthem during its 54th session, in Tokyo in 1958. It has been performed at every Olympiad since the Summer Games in Rome, in 1960.

  • Poster for the Olympic hymn.
  • 6 / 12

    The Paralympic hymn

    The Paralympic hymn, “Anthem of the Future”, was created by French composer Thierry Darnis for the IPC in 1996. Its lyrics were written in 2001 by Australian singer Graeme Connors. Like the Olympic Hymn, it is played as the Paralympic Flag is raised at the opening ceremony of the Games.

  • A choir sings during the opening ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
    Credit: Getty – Dennis Grombkowski
  • 7 /12

    The Olympic Oath, to guarantee respect and sportsmanship

    The Olympic oath was first pronounced by Pierre de Coubertin in 1920 and established the notion that honour supersedes professionalism. The oath was updated to address later developments. Custom dictates than an athlete from the host country takes the oath on behalf of all fellow contenders, officials and coaches as soon as the Olympic flame is lit.

  • Sarah Stevenson gives an oath during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 games.
    Credit: Getty Images
  • 8 /12

    The Paralympic Oath, an integral part of the ceremony

    Once the Paralympic Flag has been raised, an athlete, a coach and a judge all recite an oath on behalf of all athletes, judges and coaches taking part in the Games. While they take the Oath they raise a hand and hold a corner of the Paralympic Flag in the other.

  • Chinese athlete Wu Chunmiao takes the officials’ oath during the Beijing 2008 games.
    Credit: Getty - Guang Niu
  • 9 /12

    The motto and the creed

    The modern Olympic Games’ motto - "Citius, Altius, Fortius", Latin for Faster, Higher, Stronger - was suggested by Pierre de Coubertin in 1894 . He borrowed it from Henri Didon, a Dominican preacher.

    The creed was adopted later. The inspiration came from a phrase Ethelbert Talbot (the Bishop of Pennsylvania) said in his sermon at a service during the 1908 London Olympics, which Pierre de Coubertin parapharsed: "The most important thing is not to win but to take part."

  • The olympic motto displayed on a giant screen at the Los Angeles 1984 opening ceremony.
    Credit: Getty - Tony Duffy
  • 10 /12

    The Paralympic motto

    The Paralympic motto is “Spirit in Motion”. The Agitos are the visual representation of this motto.

  • The high jump event during the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona.
    Credit: Getty - Gray Mortimore
  • 11 /12

    The Olympic values

    The three core Olympic values are Friendship, Respect and Excellence. They are not only sport-related and can apply to every aspect of one’s daily life.

  • The hands of Kerri Walsh and Misty May of the USA beach volley team, Athens 2004.
    Credit: Getty - Ian Waldie
  • 12 /12

    The Paralympic values

    The Paralympic values — Determination, Equality, Inspiration and Courage — reflect the mindsets and merit that para sport athletes share.

  • Blake Leeper celebrates with Jarryd Wallace after the Men’s 400m T44 Final of the London 2012 games.
    Credit: Getty – Hannah Peters
Find out about the main symbols

Olympic Stories

Olympic and Paralympic history is brimming with big and small stories.

Jesse Owens won four gold medals in Berlin that year (100 metres, 200 metres, long jump and 4 x 100 metre relay), set several new world records in the process, and single-handedly debunked Adolf Hitler’s myth of Arian supremacy.

At the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games in Rio in 2016, the three‑time Paralympic medallist Marcia Malsar was one of the last people to carry the torch in the Maracana stadium. She fell when doing so but the 80,000 spectators, in the spirit of the Paralympic Games, applauded as she got back up and completed her leg of the relay.

Before the London Paralympic Games in 2012, sighted people guiding athletes with visual impairments in the cycling, running and football events underwent the same rigorous training, but were not recognised with their partners on the final podium. But all that changed in 2012.

This Romanian athlete shone at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, where her flawless uneven-bars routine made her the first gymnast in Olympic history to earn a perfect (10.0) score. She was 14 at the time and was awarded seven perfect scores in all during those Games.

The first Paralympic Games in history were held in Rome in 1960, and started six days after the closing ceremony of the XVII Olympiad. Those Games were exclusively for athletes in wheelchairs : 400 contenders competed in eight disciplines.

For the first time in Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956, a female athlete take the Olympic Oath. This stand for gender equality was a powerful statement at the time - televised internationally on Eurovision.

Composer John Weinzweig won the silver medal at the artistic and cultural competition of the the London 1948 Summer Olympics, for his instrumental work Divertimenti for Solo Flute and Strings.

Edmond Dehorter, nicknamed the "unknown speaker", was the radio commentator who reported live on the main events at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. He did so from various places, including an airship hovering over the Vélodrome d’Hiver and Stade Olympique in Colombes.

On 10 April 1896 in Athens’ Panathenaic Stadium, 80.000 spectators watched the 100-metre final. Tom Burke, an American runner, won the race (in 12 seconds), becoming the first contender to win an Olympic event in the modern era.

This Olympic bell, casted in bronze, is considered the largest harmonically-tuned bell in the world (it is 2 metres high and weighs 22 tonnes). The inscription on it, "Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises", was also recited during the opening ceremony.



1 / 7 Launch story
Credit: John Weinzweig 1945
Credit: Olympic Museum
Credit: Olympic Museum
Credit: Olympic Channel

A global event

Trend in the number of nations taking part in Olympic and Paralympic Games since 1896.
There are more nations taking part in the Games nowadays than nations with representatives to the UN.

Trends in the numbers of male and female athletes taking part in the Olympic and Paralympic Games from 1896 to date.
The goal is to achieve parity in 2024.

Trend in the number
of participating nations
Number of
participating nations

Years
Paralympic Games Olympic Games
  • Photographic heritage

    The history of sport would be hollow without photography. These snapshots are brimming with emotion and provide a first-hand glimpse into the one-of-a-kind experience that the Games provide for athletes over the years.

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    © Jamie Squire / Getty – Jul 29, 1996
    Michael Johnson holds an American flag after winning the 400 meters race in Atlanta.
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    © Michael Steele / Getty – September 2, 2012
    Kelly Cartwright of Australia competes in the Women’s Long Jump - F42/44 Final in London.
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    © Hamish Blair / Allsport – Sep 30, 2000
    Waseem Ahmad of Pakistan looks for support during the Mens Hockey Bronze Medal Match against Australia.
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    © Florent Pervillé – 2016
    Rudy Garcia-Tolson (USA) jumps from the start block during Rio 2016 Paralympic Games for the 200m Individual Medley SM7 race.
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    © Lutz Bongarts – Sept 5, 1992
    Gunther Belitz gets ready to compete in the long jump at the Barcelona olympics, where he’s about to win gold.
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    © Mike Powell / Getty – 21 Sept 1988
    Frank Weber of West Germany powers his way around the bend during a qualifying heat for the Men’s 1000m sprint in Seoul.
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    © Gray Mortimore / Getty – Feb 22, 1988
    Bonnie Blair (US) powers out of a bend during her final race in the Womens 500 metre speed skatting competition in Calgary.
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    © Patrick Smith / Getty – August 16, 2016
    Deuce Carter (Jamaica) and Damian Czykier (Poland) wait for the start of the Men’s 110m Hurdles Semifinals.
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    © Chris McGrath / Getty – August 9, 2012
    Members of the Germany team compete in the Group All-Around Gymnastics Rhythmic at Wembley Arena.
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    © Mike Powell / Getty – 7 Aug. 1992
    The athletes tackle the water jump during the Mens 3000 metre steeplechase race at the Barcelona 1992 olympics.
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    © Scott Barbour, Getty – Sept 28, 2000
    Cary Kolat is flipped by Mohammed Talaei in the Men’s 63kg Greco Roman Wrestling competition.
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    © Steve Nutt / Allsport – Jun 27, 2000
    Wendy Craig-Duncan carries the Sydney Olympic torch underwater at Agincourt Reef, Queensland.
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    © Ben Elters / Allsport – Sep 17, 2000
    Cathy Freeman lights the cauldron with the Olympic Flame during the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
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    © Bob Martin / Getty Images – 1992
    Tracey Miles is captured over the Sagrada Familia during a diving competition prior to the 1992 Olympics.
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    © Lutz Bongarts - July 28, 1996
    Charles Austin sets a new Olympic record at 2.39 m, also best world performance of the year.
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    © Steve Powell / Getty – Aug 1, 1984
    Athletes power their way off the back straight during a heat for the Men’s 400m at the Los Angeles Olympics.
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    © Robert Cianflone / Allsport – Sep 19, 2000
    Augusto Morales Marengo (Chile) returns the volley during the Sydney 2000 Men’s Table Tennis Singles Event.
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    © Keystone Hulton Archive – Nov 3, 1964
    The British team at the opening ceremony of the Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
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    © Stephen Dunn / Allspor – Jul 28, 1996
    Javier Sotomayor (Cuba) performs during a high jump event at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
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    © Pascal Rondeau / Getty – Sept 18, 1988
    Valery Lyukin performes his routine on the pommel horse during the compulsory exercise round in Seoul.
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    © David Ramos / Getty – Aug 7, 2016
    Simone Biles (USA) competes on the balance beam during Women’s qualification for Artistic Gymnastics.
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    © Mike Powell / Getty – Sep 22, 1988
    Louise Jones pursued by Erika Salumae during their quarterfinal race in the 1000 metre cycling sprint.
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    © David Ramos / Getty – August 18, 2016
    Pusarla V Sindhu (India) plays a shot during the Women’s Badminton Singles Semi-final against Nozomi Okuhara.
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    © Buda Mendes / Getty – Sept 17, 2016
    Jessica Long (USA) is congratulated by her team mate after winning the gold medal in the 200m Individual Medley.
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    © Don Morley / Getty – July 19, 1976
    Nadia Comaneci (Romania) performs her routine on the Balance Beam during the Women’s ArtisticTeam all-around event.

A story
about heroes
rather than winners

  • Nathalie du Toit


    Discover

    Ten-times Paralympic swimming champion Natalie du Toit made history in Beijing in 2008 when she became the first amputee to qualify for the Summer Olympic Games. She then went on to compete in the Paralympic Games that same year.

  • Markus Rehm


    Discover

    Markus "Blade Jumper" Rehm has won three Paralympic gold medals in long-jump category F44 (single below-knee amputation). He still holds the world record (8.48 metres) and willingly challenges able-bodied long-jumpers in competitions.

  • Heinz
    Frei


    Discover

    Heinz Frei is a renowned Paralympic athlete in his homeland, Switzerland, and around the world. He is a record holder in three different disciplines — athletics, handcycling (road races) and Nordic skiing — and has won 15 gold medals at the Paralympic Games, 14 at world championships and 112 marathons.

  • Wilma Rudolph


    Discover

    Wilma Rudolph is an example of determination. She contracted polio at age 4, underwent years of treatment to regain the use of her legs, and went on to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympiad (in Rome in 1960). She also became an inspiring role model for black American athletes.

  • Chantal Petitclerc


    Discover

    Chantal Petitclerc is the most gold-medalled female Paralympic athlete in history. She took part in five Paralympic Games and won 21 medals, including 14 gold. She retired from sports after the Beijing Paralympic Games.

  • Lawrence Lemieux


    Discover

    This Canadian sailor competing in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul was in second place and poised to win a silver medal. Until he spotted the Singaporean crew, which had been injured when its boat capsized, and decided to abandon the race and rescue them instead. After doing so with winds gusting at 35 knots, he resumed the race and finished in 22nd place. His sportsmanship earned him the Pierre de Coubertin Medal from the IOC a few days later.

  • Mustapha Badid


    Discover

    In a packed stadium during the 1988 Summer Games, French wheelchair racer Mustapha Badid won the 1,500-metre "demonstration" event (the first to be included in the Olympics). He went on to win three other gold medals at the Paralympic Games – 200 metres, 5,000 metres and Marathon – a few days later.

  • Ludwig Guttmann


    Discover

    The history of the Paralympic Games started in 1948, in a hospital unit for injured military personnel in Stoke Mandeville, 60 km northwest of London. Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a German neurologist, was looking for ways of helping World War II veterans recover sooner. As the London Olympics were in full swing at the time, he started wondering if a sports competition might work. And the rest is Paralympic history.

  • Abebe Bikila


    Discover

    Ethiopian long-distance runner Abebe Bikila gave us one of the most striking images in Olympic history at the Summer Games in Rome in 1960. As his new running shoes did not fit him properly and gave him blisters, he decided to run the Marathon barefoot. He made history as the first sub-Saharan African Olympic gold medallist.

  • Yusra Mardini


    Discover

    The humanitarian crisis that started shaking the world in 2015 prompted the IOC to create the first Refugee Olympic Team for the Rio 2016 edition, joined by Yusra Mardini. A year before the Games, she had to flee her war-torn country, Syria. Her dinghy’s motor stopped in the Aegean Sea and she pushed it in the water for over three hours. The following summer, Yusra competed under the Olympic flag in Rio.

Ludwig Guttmann

Ludwig
Guttmann

Sir Ludwig Guttmann held the first Stoke Mandeville Games on 28 July 1948 — the day before the 1948 Olympic Games opened in London. He is therefore considered the creator of the Paralympic Games.

Until then, the problem was hopeless, because we had not only to save the life of these paraplegic or quadriplegic men, women and children but also give them back their dignity and make them happy and respected citizens.

The significance of Sport in the
Rehabilitation of the Disabled,

ISRD Proc., 1956.

Olympic
posters

Modern-day Olympics have always had close ties with a variety of images - including photographs, official films and television broadcasts, and have been depicted in the myriad posters created to promote the Games over the years.

1900

Paris Games

Artist: Jean de Paléologue

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The poster features a woman fencer dressed in black holding her sport's three weapons: foil, épée and sabre. From a historical perspective, featuring sportswomen on posters was uncommon at the time, since no women took part in the Olympic fencing events in 1900.

1912

Stockholm Games

Artist: Olle Hjortzberg

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The poster represents nations marching towards their common goal, the Olympic Games. While nobody questioned the poster's artistic merit, it did spark shock and criticism when it appeared because the athletes in it were naked (even though ribbons were added). The poster was banned in China, for example.

1920

Antwerp Games

Artists: Walter Von der Ven and Martha Van Kuyck

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This Belle Epoque poster features a discus thrower in the forefront, surrounded by a whirl of interweaving flags. The images in the background are a few of Antwerp's hallmarks: the Cathedral of Our Lady, Grote Markt (a town square) and the Hôtel de Ville (city hall).

1924

Paris Games

Artist: Jean Droit

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The athletes in this poster are making the Olympic salute, the palm leaves in the forefront symbolise victory, the escutcheon is the emblem of Paris, and the French flag is floating in the background.

1928

Amsterdam Games

Artist: Emil Huber

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The runner is holding a branch of laurel, symbolising victory, the inscription on the dark blue background reads "Olympische Spiele 1928 – Amsterdam", and the Dutch flag sweeps across the bottom of the image.

1948

London Games

Artist: Walter Herz

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In this poster, an image of the Townley Discobolus (the original marble statue is on display at the British Museum) and the Olympic rings in the forefront overlie the Palace of Westminster in the background. In other words, classical and modern symbols of the Olympic Games combined with Big Ben.

1960

Rome Games

Artist: Armando Testa

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This poster is a modern variant on the Belvedere capital, which was originally in the Baths of Caracalla in ancient Rome. The Capitoline Wolf, which symbolises Rome, is feeding Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded the city according to the legend.

1964

Tokyo Games

Artist: Yusaku Kamekura

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The poster uses the emblem of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. It is a simple and lively reinterpretation of the rising sun on Japan's national flag, combined with the Olympic rings.

1968

Mexico Games

Artists: Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, Eduardo Terrazas and Lance Wyman

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The "Mexico 68" emblem in the centre of the poster seems to be reverberating in all directions. It expands through the parallel black and white lines surrounding it, which create an optical illusion of movement and is reminiscent of the Huichol people's art.

1972

Munich Games

Artist: Otl Aicher

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The silhouette of a tent-shaped roof mirrors that of the city's Olympic bases and the Olympic tower is standing in the background. The official emblem stands in the top-right corner. Created by Otl Aicher, it was chosen among 2332 other designs.

1976

Montreal Games

Artists: Ernst Roch and Rolf Harder

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This poster is called "The Invitation". The five Olympic rings in the middle are symbolically reaching out in successive waves, and inviting athletes on every continent to take part in the 1976 Games.

1980

Moscow Games

Artist: Vladimir Arsentyev

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The emblem on this poster is a combination of three components: the Olympic rings at the base, two sets of stadium tracks converging into an image that also calls to mind a typical Muscovite building, and a five-pointed star at the pinnacle.

1988

Seoul Games

Artist: Pr. Cho Yong-je

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This poster represents the 1988 Summer Olympics' motto : the bright, shining rings symbolise the Olympic ideal propagating peace around the world, and the athlete represents humankind's constant progress towards happiness and prosperity. The blue and orange colours symbolise the Land of Morning Calm.

1992

Barcelona Games

Artist: Josep Maria Trias

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Barcelona 1992's official poster depicts an athlete jumping over the Olympic rings. The stylised silhouette's head is blue (the colour of the Mediterranean Sea), its arms are bright yellow and outstretched (signifying hospitality), and its legs are bright red (symbolising life).

1996

Atlanta Games

Author: Primo Angeli

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The official poster combines classic and contemporary symbols to celebrate the centenary of the modern Olympic Games. On the athlete's chest appears the emblem of the 1996 Games. Through this drawing, the artist’s intention is to represent a character who could be a man as well as a woman.

2000

Sydney Games

Artist: FHA Image Design

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This poster features Millennium Man, a character made up of boomerangs. The zigzagging white line represents the Sydney Opera House, which also appears at the bottom of the image. There is a human-shaped shadow on the dark blue background behind Millennium Man.

2004

Athens Games

Artists: Wolff Olins Consultants and Red Design Consultants

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This poster depicts an olive wreath, the prize that Olympic Games victors received in days of old. The branches symbolise peace and are inviting people to embrace Olympic ideals. The blue and white are reminiscent of the country's sea and sky.

2008

Beijing Games

Author : Prof. He Jie

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The official poster shows birds flying over a mountainous landscape. The emblem of the Games, Beijing dancing, represents a running and dancing human silhouette, formed from the Chinese character jing (which means "the capital").

2012

London Games

Artist: Rachel Whiteread

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The interlacing circles in the Olympic colours on this poster look like the marks that bottles may leave on a table after a gathering, so they also suggest a group of supporters who have met up to enjoy the Games, or groups of athletes gathering for the opening ceremony.

2016

Rio Games

Author: unknown

- En savoir plus

The official poster shows the emblem of Rio 2016 on a white background. The shape of the logo is inspired by the emblematic Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio and represents different athletes and people coming together in a collective movement and a warm embrace.

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