The Olympic Games once included BOTH Brains and Brawn, Athletes and Artists

The Olympic Games once included BOTH Brains and Brawn, Athletes and Artists

The Olympic Games haven’t always featured athletics alone. There was once an era when pens carried as much weight as the pentathlon, and a gold medal performance was measured in both breast-strokes and brush-strokes.

Today’s Olympic games feature sports exclusively, but there was a time when artists competed for gold medals alongside runners, swimmers, and discus throwers. Cultural events ran side-by-side with athletics during both the ancient and modern Olympics. But because the most recent edition of these “brain” games took place just prior to the television era, knowledge of them is limited.

Records are scarce, but it appears that the first competitor in this artistic free-for-all was the writer Herodotus. Competing in 444 BC at Olympia, Greece, the athlete participated in both writing and sporting contests. His pairing of brains and brawn would represent the ideal throughout much of the ancient era.

After a 1,500 year hiatus, the Olympics made a comeback in 1896. International Olympic Committee founder Pierre de Coubertin lobbied to reinstate the cultural element into the modern games. His wish became reality at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

The roster of events at that meet included architecture, painting, sculpture, music, and literature. Despite its historic nature, turnout was disappointing; only 35 artists entered the competition.

The 1928 Amsterdam Olympics represented the height of artistic participation. More than 1,000 works were entered, and organizers permitted artists to sell them at the competitions end. This move, though well-intended, violated the IOC’s stance on amateurism. Following the 1948 games, an IOC report concluded that most artistic contestants were receiving money for their works and recommended that such competition be abolished.

Past Olympics Events Included Art

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