From Olympics of the Past

As the world celebrates the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro—where more than 10,000 athletes from over 200 countries will compete in 41 sports—we want to share with you some of the Olympics-related items in our Library collections. We start with a fairly recent item and work our way back through time.

Commemorative Olympic Torch, 1984. Otis Chandler papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Commemorative Olympic Torch, 1984. Otis Chandler papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Commemorative Olympic Torch, 1984

Los Angeles hosted its second Olympics in 1984 (the first was in 1932). An Olympic torch—part of The Huntington’s Otis Chandler archive—was a gift to Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times from 1960 to 1980. It is a replica of the torch used by Rafer Johnson, the 1960 decathlon gold medalist, to light the Olympic cauldron in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on July 28, 1984.

 

Commemorative Buckle, American Olympic Team, 1936. Harry Meiggs Wolter papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Commemorative Buckle, American Olympic Team, 1936. Harry Meiggs Wolter papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Commemorative Buckle, 1936

This buckle belonged to Harry Meiggs Wolter (1884–1970), who was a professional baseball player and later the Stanford University baseball coach for 26 seasons. In 1936, he coached the U.S. baseball team in a demonstration game in Berlin at the Games of the XI Olympiad. The Americans played against themselves, splitting into two squads, the “World Champions” and the “U.S. Olympics.” Baseball did not become an official Olympic sport until 1992; it was cut from the 2012 games and has not returned this year.

 

Autograph of Jesse Owens (top left) in a memorial album of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Harry Meiggs Wolter papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Autograph of Jesse Owens (top left) in a memorial album of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Harry Meiggs Wolter papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Memorial album of the Olympic Games in Berlin, 1936

In this memory book from the XI Olympiad, Wolter collected the autographs of other athletes, including four-time track and field gold medalist Jesse Owens. Owens’ achievements are particularly notable for having dashed Nazi hopes that the Games would highlight Aryan superiority.

 

Olympic Games: Official Pictorial Souvenir, Los Angeles: Organizing Committee, Games of the Xth Olympiad, 1932. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Olympic Games: Official Pictorial Souvenir, Los Angeles: Organizing Committee, Games of the Xth Olympiad, 1932. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Official Pictorial Souvenir, Games of the X Olympiad, 1932

In 1932, Los Angeles hosted its first Olympics. The Official Pictorial Souvenir highlights not only the sports competitions, but also the historic, natural, and cultural attractions of California.

 

Report of the American Olympic Committee, Seventh Olympic Games, Antwerp, Belgium, 1920, Greenwich, Conn.: Condé Nast, 1921. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Report of the American Olympic Committee, Seventh Olympic Games, Antwerp, Belgium, 1920, Greenwich, Conn.: Condé Nast, 1921. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Report of the American Olympic Committee, VII Olympiad, 1920 

The 1920 games featured the first American women’s swim team, which dominated its events—sweeping gold, silver, and bronze in both distance events and winning gold in the team relay, all in world-record time.

As the host of two Olympic Games, Los Angeles has a wonderful history with this unique athletic event. If the city’s bid for the 2024 Olympics is successful, it will become just the second city to host three Olympic Games—creating a new wave of history that may find its way into The Huntington’s collections.

Natalie Russell is The Huntington’s assistant curator of literary manuscripts.

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