100 Years Of Olympic Posters: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Thankfully, these posters are less tragic than the last century of Olympic logos.

Designing a poster for the Olympic Games must be a daunting task. How can a single image do justice to the superhuman feats of strength that define this epic international event? Over the past century, poster designers have attempted to capture the sheer awesomeness of the Olympics in an endless variety of ways. We’ve compiled the most intriguing examples here. And thankfully, for the most part, these designers did a much better job than the Olympic logo designers of the last century.


There are a few stunners, such as an image of 10 contortionists in colored costumes creating interlocking Olympic rings from their bodies from the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, or the Civil Rights Movement-era poster featuring sprinters from the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo that celebrates the diversity of the Games.

Sure, there are some design crimes. A curious theme from the ’30s features illustrations of what are presumably supposed to be Olympians but look more like delirious grandfathers in awkward onesies. Tied for the most bizarre of the bunch: a Soviet poster from 1980 showing a teddy bear so cute it’s sinister, clutching flowers and bells; and a poster from Beijing in 2008, featuring a clan of what look like proto-Powerpuff girls dressed in the colors of the rings.

But for the most part, the posters are safe representations of their respective eras. Art deco influences crop up in posters from the ’30s and ’40s. Designs from the ’60s and ’70s channel minimalism, drawing on the style of graphic masters like Tom Eckersley. The poster that most perfectly captures all the stereotypes of its era might be a 1976 design for Montreal’s summer games, featuring a denim pocket bedazzled with hippy-dippy buttons stamped with peace signs and pot leafs. (Is that a harmonica peeking out?) You’d think they had traded the Olympic torch for a giant peace pipe. The influence of graffiti, and, possibly, Microsoft Paint, rears its head in posters of the ’90s, with little Keith Haring-esque cartoons skiing across an orange blob ostensibly meant to portray a torch carrier.

Most of these posters aren’t going to win any medals. Still, they’re an object lesson in the power of design to represent virtually the same thing infinite ways–in this case, national pride, athleticism, and the hope of peace between nations. For more Olympic posters, go here.

(All logos were originally collated by and are reprinted here by permission.)

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.