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Did You Know? Olympics Used To Award Medals For Art

From 1912 to 1948, the Olympic Games, known for leading international sporting events, held competitions for fine arts, whereby medals were given for literature, architecture, sculpture, painting, and music. The art created was required to be Sport-themed.

The Olympic Games which are normally held once every four years are considered the world’s foremost sports competition with more than 200 teams, representing sovereign states and territories, participating.


The founder of the modern Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, laid out his plans for the future of the Games, as he wanted there to be a strong connection between athletes, artists, and spectators.

American Walter Winans, won the first Olympic gold art medal for his sculpture, “An American trotter”. This sculpture was a bronze 20-inch tall horse pulling a chariot. In addition to Winans’ chariot, other winners included a modern stadium building plan (architecture), an “Olympic Triumphal March” (music), friezes depicting winter sports (painting), and Ode to Sport (literature). 

Baron Pierre de Coubertin

Fearing that the competitions wouldn’t draw enough entrants, the Baron himself entered for the competition. He penned “Ode to sport”, which received a gold medal under the pseudonyms George Hohrod and Martin Eschbach, leaving the medal jury unaware of the true author.

Rugby Art

Many art world insiders viewed the competitions with distrust. Some people were enthusiastic about it, but quite a few were indifferent. They didn’t want to have to compete, because it might damage their own reputations. The fact that the events had been initiated by art outsiders, rather than artists, musicians, or writers, and the fact that all entries had to be sport-themed, also led many potential entrants to decide the competitions were not worth their time.

The arts competition continued to be a feature of the Olympics through to 1948. However, in 1949 the International Olympic Committee congress (IOC) concluded that since almost all contestants in the art competitions were professionals, it didn’t reflect the amateur status of the Olympics. The IOC attempted to revive art competitions at Helsinki 1952, but the idea was rejected by the hosts. In 1954, the competitions were once and for all replaced by art exhibitions.

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