Olympic Games: focus on Equestrian art and sports

Surprising story of Art competitions at the Summer Olympics.

Art competitions formed part of the modern Olympic Games during its early years, from 1912 to 1948. The competitions were part of the original intention of the Olympic Movement's founder, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin (he was a French educator and historian, founder of the International Olympic Committee, and its second president. He is known as the father of the modern Olympic Games)

Baron Pierre de Coubertin

Baron Pierre de Coubertin

In Ancient Greece art and sport were considered complementary practices. Coubertin felt that in his modern Olympics, it would be essential to include the arts. The true Olympian, he believed, was someone not only able to demonstrate athletic prowess, but also those skilled in the arts.

Submissions were solicited in the categories of architecture, music, painting, sculpture and literature, with a caveat—every work had to be somehow inspired by the concept of sport.

View of the 1932 Olympic Art Exhibit

View of the 1932 Olympic Art Exhibit

Equine events began at the Olympics in 1900, when competitions in polo, vaulting, four-in-hand driving, mail coach driving, mixed hacks and hunters and three types of jumping were held. Most of these events were later discontinued, and now include team and individual dressage, three-day eventing and show-jumping.

Walter Winans, Russian aristocrat with American citizenship, with "American Trotter" won the gold medal in the "Sculpture" category at the first competitions in 1912 in Stockholm. He was the only Olympian to win medals in sporting and arts competition. He won also silver for team USA in the shooting event “Team Running Deer—Single Shot”.

Polo was introduced in the Summer Olympics at the 1900 Games. It was contested in another four Olympiads before being removed from the official programme after the 1936 Summer Olympics. Polo declined in relative popularity around the time of World War II due at least in part to the logistical and financial difficulties of competing in the sport. In 1996, the International Olympic Committee voted to classify polo as a recognized sport.

One of the notable winners of equestrian arts was artwork entitled "Polo Players" to the art competitions of the 1948 Summer Olympic Games in London, created by John Copley, a British artist. He won the silver medal in the Mixed Painting, Engravings And Etchings category. 

Modern-day Olympic equestrian events are rooted in cavalry skills and classical horsemanship, and through 1948, competition was restricted to active-duty officers on military horses. Only after 1952, as mechanization of warfare reduced the number of military riders, were civilian riders allowed to compete. Equestrian is the only Olympic sport in which animals compete with humans, and is one of four sports in which the genders compete against each other, the others being some sailing divisions, mixed doubles division in tennis and the mixed doubles division of badminton.