Olympic Medals for Art – It Really Happened!

The Olympic Games Committee has added and removed sports throughout its existence. Lately, there have been calls to make competitive video gaming – namely eSports – an official Olympic event. But some people do not want eSports to become an Olympic event, suggesting that it’s “not a real sport”. 

Yet in the past, it wasn’t just athletic achievements that could earn you a place on the podium because athletic achievements alone didn’t make you a true Olympian.  

Was art in the Olympics?

Since 1912 and for the following four decades, art was included as an event in the games that could win artists an Olympic medal. This included both painting and sculpting. Competitors could also win medals for music, literature and even architecture. These events ran alongside the athletic events with many people competing as both athletes and artists.

For example, an American sharpshooting athlete called Walter Winans won gold and silver medals for his sharpshooting talents in 1908 and 1912 respectively, while also taking the podium for a gold medal in sculpting in 1912. 

Subject matter in Olympic art

As you might expect, the subject matter of the art created in the Olympics always had to be of sporting achievements. Walter Winan’s gold medal for sculpting at the Stockholm games in 1912 was won for a sculpture of an American Trotter. The piece of art made for the competition did not have to be made during the actual games; pieces were previously made but entered into the competition. 

How did art get into the Olympics?

It is strongly believed that art was added to the Olympics because of the vision of the founder of the IOC, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. He was a classically raised and educated man who believed a true Olympian was not just an athletic individual but someone who could excel in the arts. As such, he believed the modern Olympics would be “incomplete” without the inclusion of artistic competitions. 

Baron Pierre de Coubertin failed to secure artistic competitions in the first few competitions but by 1912 he finally got his wish. Artistic competitions were to become part of the Olympics as long as every piece of work was inspired by sport, hence why the artist must use sporting subject matter. 

A total of 33 works was submitted during the 1912 games, including an Ode to Sport by Martin Eschbach and George Hohrod, which won gold. However, this piece of literature was actually penned by Baron Pierre de Coubertin using pseudonyms after fearing there would not be enough entries to keep art in future Olympic Games. 

How many Olympic medals for art were won?

Between 1912 and 1952, a total of 151 Olympic medals were handed out by judges for fine art, music, architecture and literature. Even those who are fanatics about the Olympic games are unaware of the artistic presence in the early Olympic competitions. There are very few books written in English to detail this part of important Olympic history. 

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