Amazing Olympic Moments Caught on Analog Film
As Time already noted, the Olympic Games don’t just attract incredible athletes. They also lure some of the world’s best photographers, who capture and record moments otherwise missed by the human eye: gymnasts mid-flight, the half-second that defined a record-setting swim, and cyclists racing so quickly that even the most sensitive cameras can detect them only as a blur.
Today, these elite photographers use the most high-tech equipment available (think: underwater robotic cameras; teleconverter lenses) to immortalize the Olympic Games.
But back in the day, photographers were expected to capture these seconds of athletic perfection with nothing more than analog film cameras. The images we’ve dug up from the TIME/LIFE archives, though perhaps not as vivid or clear (and definitely not as, well, underwater) are just as breathtaking—especially when you consider the fast-paced, breakneck actions they were shooting.
The cyclists in the 1948 games have been eternally preserved at breakneck speeds, and athlete Shirley Strickland can still be seen clearing the 80-meter hurdle at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
Check out these photos from the 1936 to the 1972 Olympic Games. While the technology (and certainly the uniforms) has evolved with the decades, the athleticism and artistry of the world’s greatest Olympians—and their photographers—has always been awe-inspiring.
Overcoming Hurdles Soviet gymnast, Ludmilla Tourischeva, earned nine Olympic medals in her lifetime. At the 1972 Munich Games, she earned a gold all-around medal, a gold team medal, a silver medal for floor, and a bronze on the vault.
This is what downtime looked like at the 1972 Olympics in Munich: a competitive game of giant chess in the Olympic Village.
As expected, Mexico City’s high altitude had a dramatic impact on certain events. Short-distance running and jumping led to a handful of new world-records, while endurance athletes suffered. In the 1968 Olympic Games, the first woman was allowed to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony (pictured here).
Sound the Horns
Japanese trumpeters, with ornate national flags decorating their horns, introduced the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. This event was the last one to feature a traditional cinder track.
Fan the Flames
The Olympic torch burned brightly at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan. In the background, the flags of many member nations caught the wind.
For the opening ceremonies of the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, balloons in the shape of the Olympic rings floated high above the stadium.
Jump into Action
Photographer Michael Rougier proved that you don’t need fancy cameras to capture movement in amazing ways. This multiple exposure of athlete Richard Fosbury in action at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. He took gold in the high jump, and revolutionized the sport by introducing a back-first technique that was ultimately named after him: the Fosbury Flop.
Forces of Nature
This color transparency captured this a diver at the Olympic Pool in Melbourne during the 1956 Summer Games. In the backdrop are the enormous glass windows meant to protect athletes from being affected by sudden winds.
John Dominis shot the Olympic Rings being transported to the Olympic stadium in Melbourne for the 1956 games. The interlocking blue, black, green, red, and yellow colors represent the flags of all participating nations.
Balloons filled the area at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony at the track and field stadium.
Only men were allowed to compete in cycling events at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. Photographer Frank Scherschel captured one of four track cycling events, where Italy and France took two gold medals each at Wembley.
On the Water
In the 1948 Olympic Games, held in London, rowers competed on the River Thames.
View from the Top
The streets of Melbourne were decorated to celebrate the 1956 Summer Olympics. John Dominis caught this dramatic, aerial shot.
On the Fence
The Olympic Games are just a snapshot of all years athletes spend training. Mark Kauffman photographed these cadets fencing at a military school, in preparation for the Olympics in 1948.
Few Olympics are as easily recognizable as the Berlin Games of 1936—the Nazi Germany flag. Here, masses of spectators swell around the track and field venue to watch the men’s races: The legendary Jesse Owens sprinted his way to four gold medals this year.
From far away, it’s difficult to get a sense of the epic scale of the Olympic venues. In Melbourne, the fields for the 1956 Summer Games are dwarfed by cloud-filled skies and tree-lined streets.
John Dominis captured this lap of a bicycle race at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich Germany. Germany was still divided into teams from the East and the West at this time.
Light the Fire
Every Olympic Game since 1936 has begun with the a torch relay, carrying the Olympic flame from Greece to the site of the Games. In Los Angeles, USC and UCLA runners carried the torch to honor the Olympic Team.
Leaps and Bounds
Shirley Strickland was one of Australia’s most decorated runners. At the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, Strickland took gold in the 80-metre hurdles (likely pictured here) and bronze in the 100-metre race.
A Modern Event
Pictured here is the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony. The 1964 Summer Games were the first to be telecast internationally, and they were also the first Olympics held in Asia.
John Dominis took this picture of an athlete, mid-dive, in front of that protective glass backdrop.