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1968: Olympism facing the world


Thirty-nine years ago, on 12 October 1968, the Games of the XIX Olympiad opened in Mexico City’s Olympic stadium. This edition of the Games was the first one to be held in a Latin American and developing country. Ten days before the Games began, the capital fell victim to political disputes. In spite of these tensions, the traditional message of peace was delivered with the release of some 10,000 doves at the Opening Ceremony. The Games continued from there in an atmosphere of serenity. They showed innovative artistic expression and included some memorable sporting feats.

Political podium
The year 1968 was marked throughout the world by socio-political troubles: student uprisings, strikes, the Vietnam War, the Cultural Revolution in China, demands for the respect of civil rights, the fight against Apartheid, the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia…. The Olympic scene was not exempt: on the podium, American medallists Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists, symbolising the Black Power movement. Through this gesture, they were expressing their support for African Americans who were protesting against the policy of the United States government. This edition of the Games became the arena for political demands which were contrary to the spirit of peace and neutrality of Olympism.

A new face for Mexico
The world was in turmoil, but it also saw important artistic innovations in every field. The Olympic scene was no exception: proud of its past, but with an eye on the future, the Organising Committee for the Games (OCOG) created a visual identity based on a graphical line linking contemporary art and Aztec culture. The Mexico 68 logo linked the Op Art movement with the traditional art of the Huichole Indians: diverging, parallel and concentric lines and optical illusions giving an effect of movement. This aesthetic language, wichfollowed the trend of the era, could also be seen in the posters, costumes, and even the urban design. It would inspire the visual identity of the following Olympic Games. Among the creators of the Mexico graphic identity was Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, the OCOG President and future architect of the Olympic Museum, Lausanne, who is today an honorary member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The Mexico City Games’ “festival of the highest cultural values” was also part of this exciting movement. The Cultural Olympiad, for the first time, spanned a whole year: although the highlights took place in Mexico City during the Games, more than other 550 events were organised during the whole year throughout the country. Like the sporting event, the cultural programme comprised 20 categories, such as sculpture, poetry, folklore and cinema. The artistic activities promoted knowledge and respect of others, with an important part devoted to young people.

Altitude – an advantage or an obstacle?
The special location of Mexico City, perched 2,200 metres above sea-level, penalised endurance sports, but favoured sports requiring speed. America’s Bob Beamon thus managed a 8.90-metre long jump and his compatriot Edward Evans ran the 400 metres in 43.8 seconds – two records that stood for a long time.

In the effervescence of the year 1968, the Games of the XIX Olympiad brought together sport, art, the body and the spirit – a great balancing act!


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