The 15 Best Summer Olympics Photos From The Past And Present

Published April 28, 2016
Updated March 1, 2018

These amazing Summer Olympics photos from throughout history show the world united in admiration of the possibilities of the human form.

The Summer Olympics will soon come to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In just under 100 days, the city will carry the torch of the modern Summer Olympics, which date back to Athens, Greece in 1896. Then, about 240 athletes (all male) from 14 nations competed in 43 events — ranging from swimming to cycling, wrestling to fencing, and gymnastics to track and field.

This summer, when Brazil will become the first South American country to host the Summer Olympics, there will be 136 women’s events, 161 men’s events, and nine mixed medal events.

In anticipation of that and in celebration of how far the games have come, take a look at some of the most dramatic, awe-inspiring, and inspirational photos of Summer Olympics past:

Summer Olympics Photos History
The 2016 Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Brazilian judo champion Erika Miranda stands in the official Olympic uniform, carrying the Olympic torch. The Olympic Torch symbolizes the link between the Ancient and Modern Olympic Games. Photo: Christophe Simon/Getty Images

First Olympiad
Opening ceremonies of the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece 1896. Photo: Getty Images

Babe Didrikson
One of the greatest athletes of all time, Mildred ‘Babe’ Didrikson wins the gold medal for javelin during the 1932 Olympic Games. She would also go on to win gold in the 80-meter hurdles as well as a silver medal in the high jump. Photo: Getty Images

Nazi Germany
On August 1, 1936, the Olympic torch is carried into the Olympic stadium in Berlin, Germany to start the XI Olympic Games. At these games, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party hoped to show the athletic dominance of the Aryan race. Photo: Getty Images

Jesse Owens
Instead, American Jesse Owens stuck it to Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany — winning four gold medals and dealing a grave blow to the “master race” ideology. Photo: Getty Images

Smith Carlos
Athletes would go on to use the games as a platform to raise other issues of race. Above, at the 1968 games in Mexico City, gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos took to the podium without their shoes, and during the national anthem bowed their heads and raised a gloved fist to the sky in a salute of black power. Photo: Angelo Cozzi/Wikimedia Commons

Munich 11
At the 1972 games in Munich, Germany, Palestinian guerrilla members raided the Olympic Village where 10,000 athletes were staying. The guerrillas, supported by German Neo-Nazis, would assassinate 11 Israeli hostages in the greatest tragedy in Olympic history. Photo: Getty Images

Perfect 10
Mary Lou Retton became America’s Sweetheart after winning five medals — including gold in the all-around competition — in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Retton was the first American to win the all-around gold medal in gymnastics. Photo: Steve Powell/Getty Images

Carl Lewis
From 1984 to 1992, Carl Lewis set 13 world records and won ten Olympic medals; nine of them gold. Photo: Eric Feferberg/Getty Images

Joyner Kersee
Jackie Joyner-Kersey throws a javelin at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Joyner-Kersee won gold in the heptathlon, setting the world record in the process with a score of 7,291 points. Photo: Tony Duffy/Getty Images

Greg Louganis
Highly favored to win gold at the 1988 games in Seoul, Greg Louganis hit his head during a preliminary dive — leading to a concussion as well as the need for sutures. Louganis would complete the dive successfully around half an hour later, and would continue on to win the gold.

Louganis would later face controversy when it was reported he had been diagnosed with HIV six months before the Seoul Olympics; something he had not disclosed to fellow competitors. In reality, he posed very litte risk of transferring his disease, as chlorine kills HIV. Photo: Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

Rulon Gardner
Rulon Gardner gained Olympic fame in 2000 when he defeated Russian star Aleksandr Karelin for the gold medal in Greco-Roman Wrestling. At the time, Karelin had not lost an international match in 13 years.

At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, Gardner removed his shoes and left them in the middle of the mat, signaling his retirement after winning the bronze medal. Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Oscar Pistorius
Double amputee Oscar Pistorius, also known as “blade runner," made history at the 2012 London Olympics when he became the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympic Games. Pistorius has now found an entirely different notoriety as the convicted murderer of his girlfriend, South African model Reeva Steenkamp. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Usain Bolt
Considered the greatest sprinter in history, Usain Bolt is the defending Olympic Champion in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 4x100 meter relay — all of which he also holds the world record in. Bolt is the first man in the history of the modern Olympic games to be a six-time gold medalist in sprinting events. Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Michael Phelps
The most decorated athlete in Olympic history, Michael Phelps has won 18 gold, two silver, and two bronze medals. His record of 22 Olympic medals is one he hopes to build on in his final Olympic Games in Rio, 2016. Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Kelly, Erin. "The 15 Best Summer Olympics Photos From The Past And Present.", April 28, 2016, Accessed May 22, 2024.