A Graphic History of the Olympic Games

Last night I watched the closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games with my family. At one point one of us voiced the thought that whoever tries to top China’s spectacular, over-the-top ceremonies is going to have their work cut out for them.
After a moment of quiet, as red streamers were lifted from the top of a tower of 500 writhing humans to form a flower suspended in mid-air in the center of the Beijing stadium, my father said what most of us were thinking: “It’s simple. Nobody’s going to top this.”

No other country, to my knowledge, has the resources, manpower, fanatical nationalism and authoritarian wherewithal to put on a show half as impressive as the spectacle we were treated to in Beijing. But in honor of the rich and varied history of the Olympic games, here are some items of historical interest relating to more than a century’s worth of modern-era Summer Olympics:

  • First up, via NY Times Online design director Khoi Vinh’s Subtraction blog comes a fantastic retrospective of the branding and poster design for the summer games, starting with the Athens games in 1896 and running all the way through London 2012.
  • Next, the phenomenal blog Strange Maps spotlights the animated Olympic Medals Map, the full interactive version of which may be seen on the New York Times website. Very graphically interesting, the map represents medal count through relatively sized circles, arranged approximately geographically. The map features a lot of other historical information, as well—try keeping an eye on the rise and fall of the cold war by watching the name changes of former Soviet-block countries.

The Beijing Olympics were certainly impressive, but I’ve never been as interested in the actual events of the summer games. Nothing against the sports themselves, or the talented athletes who compete; I just have a personal preference for the skating and skiing of the winter games (not to mention my general propensity for cold weather). Nevertheless, I’m holding out for Chicago 2016!

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