You are here


The Olympics Across the Collection

Olympic fever has officially swept our office, with excitement and discussion on everything ranging from the team figure skating scoring process to whether or not Shaun White would break out the YOLO Flip in the halfpipe finals to the current status of Bob Costas's eye infection. It's been a big week. And it's encouraged us to take a closer look at our collection because, with over 250,000 pieces, we figured there just had to be some works that celebrated the Olympics. We were not disappointed.

Contemporary Olympic gold medalists get endorsement deals, but some winners of the Ancient Olympic Games received an arguably larger perk. A minted coin celebrating their victory. In the Ancient Olympics, horse races were among the most prestigious competitions. Horses were symbols of socioeconomic status, since only the privileged could afford to buy, feed, and train them and transport their teams and trainers to Olympia every four years. In time, many of the victors in the horse races included kings and tyrants. The top coin shows Gelon of Syracuse, who minted this to commemorate his victory in the four-horse chariot race in 488 B.C. Three years later he became ruler of the city. The image below features Anaxilas, ruler of Messana and Rhegium, who commissioned this coin to celebrate the victory of his mule team in either 484 or 480 B.C. Both coins are currently on view in Gallery 151.



The next one might be cheating a little bit because Hannes Schroll (pictured below) never actually competed in the Olympics, but did finish first in the 1935 Olympic Trials in several alpine skiing events, including slalom, downhill, and combined. However, he was Austrian born and thus wasn't eligible to be selected to the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. This portrait of Schroll was taken in 1935 in the Yosemite Valley, where he was a ski instructor. The photographer? None other than Ansel Adams.

Hannes Schroll

The Cheetah Flex Foot pictured below was worn in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, most famously by South African Oscar Pistorius. This custom-engineered prosthetic limb was designed for both above-the-knee and below-the-knee amputees and was inspired by a cheetah's hind legs. The curved shape and carbon composite materials enable the prosthetic limb to store and release energy like a spring to closely mimic the anatomy of the human foot and ankle, allowing disabled athletes to sprint at new high speeds. It has been instrumental in the achievement of several world records.

Cheetah Flex Foot

Sadly (as far as I'm concerned), the model below will never be built. Local architect Stanley Tigerman created it for Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid, which our fair city lost to Rio de Janeiro in 2009. This complex would have been part of the imagined Olympic Village, housing athletes and coaches alike.


If you weren't already with us, we hope this gets you in the Olympic spirit!

Image Credits:

Greek, minted in Syracuse, Sicily. Coin Showing Quadriga with Bearded Charioteer, 485–478 B.C. Gift of William F. Dunham.

Greek, minted in Sicily, Messana. Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Biga with Mules, 484–476 B.C. Gift of William F. Dunham.

Ansel Easton Adams. Hannes Schroll, Yosemite Valley, California, c. 1935. Gift of Mrs. Katharine Kuh.

Van Phillips and Hilary Pouchak, Manufactured by Össur Icelandic. Cheetah Flex Foot, c. 2000. Gift of Ossur Americas.

Stanley Tigerman. Olympic Village Housing (project), Chicago, Illinois, 2006. © Stanley Tigerman