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Jean Jacoby's Corner, left, and Rugby. At the 1928 Olympic Art Competitions in Amsterdam, Jacoby won a gold medal for Rugby. (Collection: Olympic Museum Lausanne)

When the Olympics Gave Out Medals for Art

In the modern Olympics’ early days, painters, sculptors, writers and musicians battled for gold, silver and bronze

After heated debate, it was eventually decided that the art competitions would be scrapped. They were replaced by a noncompetitive exhibition to occur during the Games, which eventually became known as the Cultural Olympiad. John Copley of Britain won one of the final medals awarded, a silver in 1948 for his engraving, Polo Players. He was 73 years old at the time, and would be the oldest medalist in Olympic history if his victory still counted. The 151 medals that had been awarded were officially stricken from the Olympic record, though, and currently do not count toward countries’ current medal counts.

Still, half a century later, the concept behind the art competitions lingers. Starting in 2004, the IOC has held an official Sport and Art Contest leading up to each summer Games. For the 2012 contest, entrants sent sculptures and graphic works on the theme of “Sport and the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect.” Though no medals are at stake, winners will receive cash prizes, and the best works will be selected and displayed in London during the Games. Somewhere, the Baron Pierre de Coubertin might be smiling.

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