London’s Olympic history – an unmissable exhibition of memorabilia celebrating the Games since 1896

Sunday 29, July 2012


London’s Olympic history – an unmissable exhibition of memorabilia celebrating the Games since 1896


London’s Olympic history – an unmissable exhibition of memorabilia celebrating the Games since 1896.


The history, symbolism and individual stories behind the Olympic Games and Paralympics Games will come to life through personal memorabilia this summer in an exhibition presented by the British Library and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). From an historic 1908 Olympic swimming costume to the finishing tape broken by legendary marathon runner Dorando Pietri prior to his controversial disqualification, the exhibition will focus on the London Games in 1908 and 1948 and of course look towards the much anticipated 2012 competitions.
Using objects, including 2,500 stamps, original letters and postcards, some to and from Olympians, vibrant posters and artwork, the exhibition traces the way that Olympic iconography has evolved over more than a century, but also how the Games have touched the lives of competitors, public figures and Londoners across the capital. The memorabilia on display provides a nostalgic journey from the first modern Games in 1896. The individual collectors exhibiting come from Britain and Europe, and their exhibits include Olympic items from all over the world.

In addition to the physical memorabilia, fascinating audio interviews with Olympians from the British Library’s archives are available to listen to. These include interviews with William (Bill) Roberts, a relay runner who took part in 1936 Berlin Olympics, Sandy Duncan, runner and later general secretary of British Olympic Association, and Dorothy Tyler, a medal-winning high jumper who competed in the 1936 and 1948 Olympics. The interviews cover such topics as the atmosphere in Nazi Germany, comparing the London Games in 1948 to Berlin in 1936, and describing Team GB’s decision not to salute Hitler, as well as testing to ascertain the gender of athletes. These interviews can also be heard online on the British Library’s oral history website.

People visiting can then go on to create their own personal Olympic souvenir by mailing an item to receive an Olympic postmark, at the Olympex Collectors’ Cabin on the British Library’s piazza. Visitors can present a postcard or envelope to be branded with the official 2012 Olympex cachet and create a unique London 2012 souvenir. The curators of the exhibition will be on hand in the Cabin to give advice on creating a personalised souvenir, or you can find out more on the Olympex 2012 website. In addition, people will be able to make their Olympic torch relay dreams come true. There will be an Olympic torch available at the Collectors’ Cabin for photo opportunities to mark their involvement in London’s most spectacular Olympic year yet.

The exhibition will also feature an interactive tool, exploring individual stories of athletes. One of these athletes was Thomas Jack, who was in the lead for Great Britain for the first five miles of the 1908 marathon. Pubs and taverns were official refreshment points during the 1908 marathon and Thomas, after stopping at a pub during his fifth mile, reappeared eventually never to make it to his sixth.

IOC President Jacques Rogge says: “The IOC is delighted to have the British Library as its partner in this exhibition. The Library’s international reputation for bringing stories to life makes it the natural home for this fascinating and unique view of Olympic history.”

Roger Walshe, Head of Public Engagement and Learning, British Library, says: “We are very pleased to be working with the IOC to bring Olympex 2012 to life here at the British Library. The exhibition captures the Olympic spirit that London is feeling at the moment and shows the legacy each London Games has left. Through souvenirs and historic objects we hope to present a unique and personal side to the Olympic Games.”

Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games is part of the Cultural Olympiad. The exhibition will be held in the Front Hall of the British Library, St Pancras, from 25 July to 9 September. Admission is free.



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