Olympic Visions: Images of the Games through History

Article excerpt

Olympic Visions: Images of the Games through History, by Mike O'Mahony. London, Reaktion Books, 2012. 175 pp. $35.00 US (cloth).

Olympic Visions is a handsome, beautifully-illustrated, well-written book. It was published in the belief that those of us who study sports in general and the Olympics in particular acquire most of our information from "numerical data" or "word-driven accounts" (p. 9) and tend to ignore visual evidence. I do not think this is true, but the point is not worth arguing. The only relevant observation is that all readers, whether or not they are receptive to the study of images, will learn a great deal from this volume that places "visual culture at the very centre of its consideration of Olympic history" (p. 9).

The book focuses on everything visual that has been associated with the Olympic Games, including stadium architecture, paintings, engravings, statues, prints, stamps, photographs, films, theatrical performances, medals, mascots, flags, trophies, torches, and cigarette cards. The author comments intelligently ou the ways in which images and visual artifacts have been used to promote specific Games (for example Stockholm 1912 or Munich 1972 or Beijing 2008), to document developments and results in the different Games, and especially to construct the lasting messages or impressions emphasized by a host country or the International Olympic Committee.

Olympic Visions contains eight chapters, whose themes are revealed by the titles: "Imaging the Ancient Olympics," for example, or "Celluloid Games," or "Promoting the Games: Publicity and the Official Olympic Poster." The chapter entitled "The Russians Are Coming: The Olympics and the Cold War" gives an idea of the kinds of arguments advanced in the book. …