Arts, On Campus, Featured Story

O’Neill Exhibit Paints Vivid History of the Summer Olympics

It is safe to assume that Roman Emperor Theodosius could never have imagined one Maryland-born, 6-foot-4 fish out of water would become a cultural icon and one of the most winningest American athletes to date—a man who can attribute all of this glory and 28 Olympic medals to the very games Theodosius deemed pagan and abolished in the year 393. It is also easy to infer that, had the emperor been witness to the return of the Games some 1,500 years after their termination, orchestrated by Pierre de Coubertin, he’d be pretty pissed about that whole revival effort, too.

Against the far wall of O’Neill Library’s third-floor reading room stands a few glass cases in front of a rather long, wall-mounted timeline. Sports-related novels and event programs crowd the interior of the display while photos of athletes in action fill the cases to capacity. Various ticks on a timeline of Olympic history indicate noteworthy events or groundbreaking changes to the entertaining summer spectacle. Rather ironically, it is in this small space allotted to the Faster, Higher, Stronger exhibit that the rich history of one of the biggest and most important global sporting events is on display.

Just a few seconds of browsing the contents of the exhibit instantly pique one’s interest in an age-old athletic tradition. Found in the first display case, one book details the successes of track star Wilma Rudolph. Photos and article clippings depict the successes of this  American woman who won three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games. In the adjacent glass case, a German book is opened to a page that keeps record of the incomparable Jesse Owens’s accomplishments during the 1936 Berlin Games—track and field victories that delivered a caustic blow to Hitler’s long-preached idea of Aryan supremacy.

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At the far right side of the timeline, a plaque commemorates and congratulates those Boston College students who have competed in the Games during one Olympiad or another. While this element of the exhibit acknowledges athletes who specialize in an array of different sports, the three events that Olympic-qualified Eagles seem to flock to most (including both the Summer and Winter Olympic events) are men’s hockey, women’s hockey, and finally track and field.

The ever-growing list is a nod to the talent and athletic prowess of just some of the University’s star athletes—past, present, and future.

An eye-popping assortment of Olympics posters broke up the monotony of statistics, wordy descriptions, and grainy, monochromatic pictures of gymnastics squads and crew teams in the exhibit. These advertisements and graphics were created for each Olympiad to announce the upcoming global competition. Most were composed of wild graphics and incorporated the colors of the famous Olympic rings. While some opted for an optical illusion-like pattern—the dizzying Mexico ’68 ad, for example—other host countries decided on something simpler—Tokyo’s plain poster for the Games in ’64 was evocative of Japan’s simple flag design.

The exhibit is an unexpected, but highly informative blip in the heavily populated third floor reading room. It offers students and staff the opportunity to learn a handful of interesting facts and figures about all of the record-shattering performances, caustic controversy, and malicious acts of violence in the name of sabotage that have transpired over the course of the Games’ tenure in history. Easily capable of being missed or passed by without a glance, the unassuming exhibit acts as a showcase of the ways in which sports have evolved dramatically, united quarreling countries under the universal love for the game, and shape-shifted global relations in the name of intense competition.

Featured Image By Isabelle Lumb / Heights Staff

September 11, 2016