One year from today (25th July) the 2012 Olympics will be upon us.

Athletes from across the world will compete in an even wider range of sporting events than ever before, along with the familiar track and field events that tend to dominate the headlines. London will play host for the first time in 64 years, hoping to provide a perfect setting for the festival of culture, colour, energy and passion that the Olympic Games have become.

I felt it fitting to mark the occasion by compiling a list of the best Olympic logos over its long and proud history. Emblems, symbols and graphics are prominent throughout the Olympics, causing much discussion and opinion. Here are my favourites.

No. 10. Athens 2004

Athens Olympics 2004 logo design

With a blue watercolour background and simplistic, hand drawn aesthetic, the Athens logo gave a unique taste of the host nation’s culture as well as hinting at the rustic origins of the games.

No. 9. Calgary 1988

Calgary 1988 Olympics logo

The logo for the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988 is comprised of the five Olympic rings deconstructed and rearranged to form a shape somewhere between a snowflake and a Canadian Maple leaf.

No. 8. Nagano 1998

Nagano Olympics 1998 logo
Another Winter Olympics, Nagano’s logo was known as the ‘Snowflower’ – each petal made from an abstract sporting figure with a cast shadow beneath. The result is a distinctive and energetic logo with a strong Japanese feel.

No. 7. Beijing 2008

Beijing 2008 Olympic logo

The 2008 Olympics provided an excellent spectacle, very well hosted by the Chinese city of Beijing. The logo features the Chinese symbol for the word Jing (meaning Capital) that resembles a dancing/running human figure. The style of the emblem imitates the look of Chinese stone cutting and alongside the calligraphic typography, represents the host nation well.

As a side note, the conspiracy theory is that this amusing cartoon is the real meaning behind what is known as ‘Dancing Beijing’. Somehow I don’t believe it!


No. 6. Chicago 2016

Chicago 2016 Olympic applicant city logo

Chicago was one of the applicant cities that bid to host the games, losing out to the eventual winner, Rio. Their initial logo showed a stylized visual of the Olympic torch – the flame made to mimic the Chicago skyline. However due to International Olympic Committee rules that prohibit the torch being used as the games’ logo, it was redesigned in a simplified way that actually ended up looking stronger, if perhaps conceptually a little weaker. The use of Gotham for the type was typically American and helped to confirm a solid submission.


No. 5. Mexico 1968

Mexico 1968 Olympics logo

Designed by Lance Wyman the Mexico ’68 logo showcases one of the most recognizable sporting logo styles, with a similar approach being used in 1986’s football World Cup, also held in Mexico. The concentric lines represent the heritage and art of ancient Mexican culture, as well as tying in strongly with the op-art style prevalent in the 1960s. Combining the Olympic rings into the numbers ‘68’ is a lovely little touch.

No. 4. Sochi 2014

Sochi 2014 unofficial Olympic logo

Along with Chicago, this is another logo that was/will never be used to represent the Olympic Games for real. Sochi’s official logo features quite a clever hint of reflection in the type, but I actually prefer the vitality and colour of this unofficial bid logo designed by Transformer Studio in Russia. See the case study here on Behance.

No. 3. Atlanta 1996

Atlanta 1996 Olympic logo

Somehow bypassing the rules that scuppered Chicago’s 2016 logo, Atlanta brazenly revolved around the torch shape with a flame that flickered into colourful, ‘All American’ stars at the top. The column that supported the flame was made up of the digits ‘100’ (Atlanta 1996 represented 100 years of the Olympic games) topped with a set of 5 golden Olympic rings – a pleasant touch.

No. 2. Rio 2016

Rio 2016 Olympic logo

A controversial logo, with allegations of plagiarism and plenty of haters, I personally really like the Rio offering and don’t believe it was copied. It contains relevance (based on concepts of collaboration and unity and energy, with hints of the local landscape and a subtle nod to the letters RIO) and is executed in a bright and friendly way. The custom type compliments the mark and results in a warm and lively logo.

No. 1. London 2012

London 2012 Olympic logo

The one we all love to hate – and with even more conspiracy theories than Rio!

Personally I hated it when I first saw it – just like the rest of the world it seemed. But over the last four years it’s grown, both into itself and on me. The brand has developed into a vibrant campaign and the logo has become instantly recognisable and synonymous with the long-anticipated event.

The much maligned 2012 mark sums up Olympic brand values of energy, vitality and pushing boundaries. It is bright and flexible, modern and distinctive. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and everyone’s got their knickers in a twist about the reported costs, but Wolff Olins don’t get it wrong often and I don’t think they did with this either. What do you think?

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