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(…as well as all of the silvers, bronzes, the Olympic torches, the Velodrome and the cauldron).

We thought that might get your attention. The Olympics may have been and gone, but as we gear up for the Paralympics it seems like an appropriate time to ask - did you know about the RSA’s association with the world’s greatest sporting events, both at London 2012 and throughout the history of the modern Olympiad?

For example, this year’s Olympic torch, the Olympic cauldron and all of the Olympic medals were designed by RDIs, all of whom are also RSA Fellows. The title of Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) was introduced by the RSA in 1936 to honour designers of excellence, and to promote the important contribution of design in manufacturing and industry. It is now conferred to designers who have shown significant benefit to society, sustained design excellence, and work of aesthetic value.

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Royal Mail stamps - marking the opening of the London Paralympics


The eye-catching Olympic torch was designed by Edward Barber RDI FRSA and Jay Osgerby RDI FRSA. Thomas Heatherwick RDI FRSA designed the centrepiece of the Olympic stadium, the magnificent Olympic cauldron, and all of the Olympic medals were designed by David Watkins RDI FRSA. The engineering firm Expedition, co-founded by Chris Wise RDI FRSA, was also responsible for building the impressive Velodrome.

On 29th August 2012, Royal Mail is issuing a set of stamps to celebrate the start of the Paralympic Games, the first time Paralympic stamps have been created by a host nation. The designs are by Pearce Marchbank RDI.

The RSA’s very own President, HRH The Princess Royal, is also President of the British Olympic Association and has herself competed at the Games (equestrian eventing, Montreal 1976), with her daughter Zara Philips following in her footsteps (or rather, hoofprints) in the same event this year.

Our connection to the modern Olympics goes back further than you might expect. The Great Exhibition of 1851, initiated by the RSA, is generally viewed as the first international exhibition and thus the beginnings of the international exposition. The 1900 Games were held as part of the Paris Exposition, and the 1904 Games as part of the Saint Louis World’s Fair. That same year the newly-formed International Olympic Committee, the IOC, saw its ‘first outing’ at the RSA when Pierre de Coubertin, widely considered to be the father of the modern Olympics, made a statement at the House.

painting image

The Olympics, of course, has its roots in Greece. James Barry’s rousing painting Crowning the Victors at Olympia can be found in the newly-refurbished Great Room in the RSA House. It captures the moment, as described by Barry himself, when ‘the victors pass in the procession before the Hellanodicae or Judges, where they are crowned with olive, in the presence of all the Grecians’. This, and other paintings by Barry, can be viewed during this year’s Open House on 23rd September, when the House is open to the public. While you’re here, why not pop into the library and check out our Olympic titles and the other books in the catalogue?

So, we may not all be world-class athletes akin to James Barry’s image of the triumphant ‘victor’ but, in our own little way, the RSA has helped to contribute to the greatest show on Earth, and we’ll all be doing the Mobot until Brazil 2016!

Titles that we hold in the library that might be of interest:

The austerity Olympics: when the Games came to London in 1948 by Janie Hampton

Mega-events modernity: Olympics and expos in the growth of global culture by Maurice Roche

Minds, bodies and souls: an archaeology of The Olympic Heritage Network by Don Anthony

Born out of Wenlock: William Penny Brookes and the British origins of the modern Olympics by Catherine Beale

The 1948 Olympics: how London rescued the Games by Bob Phillips

The Olympian dream: the story of William Penny Brookes by Chris Cannon, Wenlock Olympian Society

Disclaimer - The RSA’s role, as enshrined in the full name of the Society, is to encourage. Nevertheless, we obviously know that the RSA did not directly drive Team GB’s magnificent haul of 29 gold medals, let alone the other Olympic medals, the cauldron, the Velodrome, the torches or the Paralympic stamps. The fact that they were all designed or built by RDIs and Fellows is of course coincidental, and we are in no way suggesting that the RSA is responsible for their fantastic work. The RSA has no direct link to the London 2012 Olympics, past watching it on TV. One of us went to the basketball, but that was on a day off and not official RSA business.

Guest blog from the Library team.


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