Design Your Own Olympic Logo!

800px-Olympic_flag_transparent.svg.pngWhat’s in a logo? When it comes to the Olympic games: geography.

While the concept of a “logo” is a relatively modern phenomenon spurred by the rise of capitalism and reproducible print, the Olympics have long been infused with geographic symbolism. Take the Olympic flag, for starters: The five interlocking rings are typically taken to represent the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. Why are the North and South American continents lumped together? That’s a political question I hope another geographer out there can answer!

In addition to universal Olympic symbols like the torch and five-ring flag, each of the host cities supporting the modern games has developed icons to mark its unique incarnation of the event. Almost always, the posters, medals, and logos evoke a strong sense of place. The reasons are obvious: Olympics provide a great sense of pride for the host city, and often serve as a “coming out party” on the world stage. Let’s take a look at a sampling of Olympic logos from 1896 – 2016 to investigate how geography factors into design.

Disclaimer: I am NOT an art history or graphics expert, so I welcome YOUR input on this topic!


1896_athens_medal1.jpg
Athens, Greece, 1896
Before logos, the commemorative medal of the 1896 Athens Olympics reflected symbols of the classic Greek Games of antiquity. Nike, a figure from Greek mythology, holds an ear of corn, a fertility symbol that stresses the connection among humans, land & agriculture, and recreation. The Panathenic Stadium, the location of the games, is also depicted on the reverse side of the medal.

Thumbnail image for 1900_paris_medal1.jpg

Paris, France, 1900
The medal from the 1900 Paris Games preserves many of the symbols of antiquity, such as an image of the Acropolis of Athens. It also features views of the city of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, constructed in 1899 for the Exposition Universelle. A female athlete graces the 1900 poster, marking the first time women were allowed to participate in the Games.

1932_losangeles_logo.jpg

Los Angeles, United States, 1932
The Los Angeles Games introduced the first real Olympic logo or “emblem.” An American flag in the form of a coat of arms is accompanied by a laurel, yet another throwback to Greek antiquity.

1952_helsinski_poster.jpgHelsinki, Finland, 1952
In the poster for the Helsinki games, a runner sprints across a world globe. Finland is outlined in red; a dot marks the location of Helsinki. Just another example of the Olympics putting countries on the map!

1956_cortinadampezzo_logo.jpgCortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, 1956
The emblem features the Dolomites, a geologic formation of carbonate rock that defines this Alpine region.

2008_beijing_logo.jpgBeijing, China, 2008
The Beijing logo highlights cultural geography through the style of its lettering and the symbol of an athlete, both reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy, as well as its red background–the same rich color as the national flag.

van_2010_logo.jpg

Vancouver, Canada, 2010

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The Vancouver logo depicts an inukshuk, a traditional stone sculpture used by Canada’s native Inuit people. The Inuit live in the Canadian Arctic, far north of temperate Vancouver, which has been plagued by warm temperatures and limited snowfall in the weeks leading up to the Winter Olympics.

logo_rio_2016.jpg

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2016
Like Beijing, the blue, green, and yellow of Rio’s logo matches the colors of the national flag, as well as cariocas’ ( the name for residents of Rio) characteristic “exuberant nature.” Like Cortina d’Ampezzo, a symbol of unique local geology–Sugar Loaf Mountain–is also depicted in the logo.

Of course, these examples represent just a small selection of Olympic logos and their geographic underpinnings. I encourage you to fill in the gaps by taking a closer look at Olympic logos over the past 100+ years! If you’re really ambitious, try to identify some trends. How many logos include national flags? Maps? Do logos from Winter Olympics feature more natural imagery (e.g. mountains, snowflakes)? Do logos from Summer Olympics tend to highlight cultural imagery (e.g. cityscapes, national monuments)? Let us know what you find out!

This month during the 2010 Winter Olympics, we invite blog readers to design your own Olympic logos. Imagine the Olympics are coming to your hometown. How would you reflect the character of your community?

Send us your designs and we’ll post our favorites on the blog!

Sarah Jane for My Wonderful World

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Images from the International Olympic Committee Website.

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