Olympic Pictograms Reveal All the Sports That Have Been Added and Removed Over the Last 52 Years

The Olympic Games are known for being the world’s greatest sports contest, and so it’s vital that its various competitions are understood across cultures. Since we can’t all read or speak the same language, pictograms—a stylized representation of a message or activity—help people from all walks of life comprehend the Games in the same way. The 1964 Olympics in Tokyo marked the start of these pictograms, which were, and continue to be, a visual identity for each subsequent year.

The updated pictograms are designed by the host country. Individual competitions—such as gymnastics, swimming, fencing, and shooting—are highlighted with a different icon. It’s a fantastic way to look back at Games, because we quickly understand how things have changed every four years. Sports have been added, taken away, and expanded upon, which are gleaned from comparing each of the designs.

In addition to the types of disciplines pictured, we get a sense of the visual trends that were in vogue at the time of the pictograms’ creations. Some represent a minimalist approach while others are more detailed and colorful. The Olympic Studies Centre has published a reference that explains the thinking behind each set of designs—the entire 19-page document can be viewed online.

Above: Designer: Urban Design Department of the Organizing Committee of the Games of the XIX Olympiad, including Lance Wyman

Designer: Yoshiro Yamashita / Masaru Katzumie

Designer: Otl Aicher

Designers: Otl Aicher, adapted by Georges Huel and Pierre-Yves Pelletier

Designer: Nikolai Belkov

Designers: Keith Bright and Associates

Designers: Seoul Organizing Committee

Designer: Josep Maria Trias

Designer: Malcom Grear

Designer: Saunders Design

Designer: ATHOC 2004 Image & Identity Department

Designer: China Central Academy of Fine Arts / Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University

Designer: SomeOne Design Agency

Designer: Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Game

via [Reddit]

Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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