LIVE! Broadcasting the Olympic Games

From the end of the 19th century up to the present day, Live! offers you the chance to follow the main stages of the technological boom that has expanded access to the Olympic Games outside the stadium: 1900, 1920, 1936, 1960, 1970, 1980, et 2012. A powerful whirlwind created by pioneers and unexpected findings, the broadcasting of the Olympic Games is more than a story of technical innovations – in fact, the whole of modern history is revealed.


1900: The cinema, the first Games broadcaster!

The Games were born at the same time as the cinema, at the end of the 19th century, and appeared in the famous newsreels, which were shown in cinemas before the days of television news. Despite a delay of several weeks, cinema-goers loved the feeling of being in the stands at the venues, before all sharing the excitement generated by that of the commentators, with the advent of talking pictures.

On the athletics track in St Louis, in 1904. (1908-01-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

These are the oldest Olympic moving images in existence! In a darkened cinema, the viewers all got a glimpse of the stadium in St Louis (USA). But we can be pretty sure that the newsreels of the time made no mention of the controversy surrounding these Games, where 523 of the 651 athletes were American, with no British or French teams; and where the “Anthropology Days” featuring “savage tribes” (including Geronimo!) aroused the anger of Pierre de Coubertin.

In 1908 in London, with the 100m winners. (1908-01-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

It bears the name Pathé. There is no older film of an Olympic 100m race. On this July day on the clay of the White City Stadium, built in 10 months after London had stepped in at the last minute to save the 1908 Games, eight men lined up to run for victory, in particular South Africa’s Reginald Walker (gold medal) and America’s James Rector (silver). The images flicker; the shapes are imprecise; but the emotion is intact.

London 1908, via Ostend or Dover! (1908-01-02) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Londres 1908, en passant par Ostende ou Douvres!

No radio or television coverage. So the only way to experience the Games live was to go there in person! This advertisement for the Games in London was aimed at the French, who were invited to travel via Dover or Ostend in Belgium. The poster refers to the Franco-British Exhibition, an initiative to commemorate the Entente Cordiale of 1904, in the years before the First World War. Ancient imagery (the laurel wreath) was still popular.

A ticket for the marathon, London, 24 July 1908 (1908-01-01)The Olympic Museum

A ticket for the marathon, London, 24 July 1908

The person who had this ticket for the Olympic Stadium in London, on 24 July 1908, probably witnessed the incredible finish of the marathon. Despite finishing first, Italy’s Dorando Pietri, doped with strychnine, collapsed five times, went the wrong way, and was helped across the line by the organisers. So the gold medal went to the second runner, the American John Hayes!

The 1920s: radio invented live broadcasting (1935-01-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

The 1920s: radio invented
live broadcasting

This beautiful Art Deco-style piece is a radio, and families (here, in the USA in around 1935) came together around the device as if it were a log fire. In 1924, the Paris Olympic Games were broadcast on the radio! Radio Paris, born one year beforehand, invented live sports commentary with journalist Edmond Dehorter, and every evening the BBC summarised that day’s events. From the 1930s to the 1960s, radio was the number one media channel for the Games, before making way for television...

The radio set - medium and companion (1920-08-21) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Le poste de radio, média et compagnon

These radio sets, magnificently designed (like this Art Nouveau-style Stewart-Warner, or this Atwater-Kent, named after the American inventor who also sponsored several radio shows), started to go in sale at the end of the 1920s, when the Games took on increasing importance internationally.
In the US, as the grinding poverty of the 1930s prevented families going to the cinema or going out to dinner, the radio became the only distraction, allowing people to keep updated on the Great Depression or to listen to the reassuring words of President Roosevelt. The broadcast of the Los Angeles Games had audiences listening with baited breath, even in the absence of images... Radio’s reign would last until the 1960s, before making way for television.

The radio set - medium and companion (1920-08-20) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

The radio set - medium and companion

These radio sets, magnificently designed (like this Art Nouveau-style Stewart-Warner, or this Atwater-Kent, named after the American inventor who also sponsored several radio shows), started to go in sale at the end of the 1920s, when the Games took on increasing importance internationally.
In the US, as the grinding poverty of the 1930s prevented families going to the cinema or going out to dinner, the radio became the only distraction, allowing people to keep updated on the Great Depression or to listen to the reassuring words of President Roosevelt. The broadcast of the Los Angeles Games had audiences listening with baited breath, even in the absence of images... Radio’s reign would last until the 1960s, before making way for television.

Edmond Dehorter, “the unknown speaker”, the father of sports commentary (1923-10-06) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

6 October 1923, a boxing match in the Salle Wagram, in Paris. On Radiola, which would shortly become Radio-Paris, Edmond Dehorter (nicknamed “the unknown speaker”) commentated on a match live, for the first time in media history.
For the 1924 Games in Paris, the Edmond did it again. He commentated on the key events live, and even tried to do it from a hot-air balloon basket, high above both the Vélodrome d’Hiver and the Stade de Colombes... Interested in the crowds, Peugeot attached advertisements to the sides of the basket!

Paris, July 1924, in the 100m starting blocks. (1924-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

A Paris, en juillet 1924, dans les starting blocks du 100 m

Only spectators allowed to applaud the 100m runners, Great Britain’s Harold Abrahams or the USA’s Jackson Scholtz... The organisers feared that live broadcasting, which began modestly that year on Radio Paris, would empty the stands. In Great Britain, newspaper proprietors, worried whether their papers would survive, forced the BBC to broadcast bulletins only after 6 p.m.!

Opening Ceremony of the Antwerp (Belgium) Olympic Games, 1920 (1920-08-20) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Photographers, of whom there were many more, now worked in groups. The media challenge had begun.

The journalist-artist (1924-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

The journalist-artist

The photo... The newsreel at the cinema… The debut of radio... Yes, but drawings were still predominant in newspapers in the 1920s. This gave artists the right to access the track and the stands at the 1924 Games in Paris.

The 1930s: seen on TV! (1936-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

1930s: seen on TV!

It is after the War. The London Games announce the end of the dark days, but also a step towards modernity. Television comes to living rooms in the Western world, never to disappear. While TV technology took its first steps in Olympic Berlin in 1936, it flourished in 1948, in the British capital. That year, Olympic images were beamed directly into homes. Already, things were moving beyond the simple factual broadcast of the day’s events. Filming was live; angles and perspectives were multiplied; stories were told. The spectator’s experience moved from being collective (the cinema newsreels, the TV halls in Berlin) to family oriented.

Berlin 1936: Jesse Owens, the African American who contradicted Hitler’s theories (1936-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

First, the starter pistol, then the clamour, and finally victory. Jesse Owens, aged 23, with a stunning turn of speed, won not only the 100m, but also the 200m, the long jump and the 400m relay! Images and sound for a mythical moment. Despite the affront (a black triumph), Hitler gestured to Owens with a wave of the hand. Owens said later, going against all the commentators of the time and not without provocation, that he felt more valued by Hitler than by the segregationist America that he returned to after the Games.

Berlin 1936: a condenser microphone used during the Games. (1936-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Berlin 1936: a condenser microphone used during the Games

The condenser technique is still used today, and considered particularly good at conveying an atmosphere.

Berlin, 1936: the Games televised and exploited (1936-08-02) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Berlin, 1936: the Games televised and exploited

Berlin 1936 marked the start of TV broadcasting of the Games. Twenty-five “public auditoriums” and beer halls equipped with screens opened in Berlin, Potsdam and Leipzig.
These places allowed exactly 162,228 spectators to follow the competitions free of charge. It was a dream opportunity for the Nazi regime to show off its modernity and temporarily calm international concern. At the same time, film-maker Leni Riefenstahl, a friend of Hitler, began filming her documentary, Olympia, which magnified the bodies of the Olympic athletes and invented a way of filming movement.

Olympic! (1948-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

L’Olympic !

Aptly named “Olympic”, this small television set could be found in many British homes during the 1948 Games in London.

The 1960s: television on the podium (1964-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

1960s: television on the podium

The radio? Still around. News at the cinema? In some cases. But television, stimulated by the Olympic Games, was beginning its never-ending marathon of technological and global progress. This decade saw a number of firsts. Rome 1960: first live broadcasts in many European countries. Tokyo 1964: first satellite broadcasts.  Mexico City 1968: first wireless, hand-held colour cameras! Audience figures grew into the hundreds of millions, and the viewers were delighted. 

Rome 1960: men’s 100m final, black and white (1960-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Forty black-and-white cameras, 11 mobile units and 11 video recorders allowing for slow motion: In Rome, in 1960, television took a giant leap forward and became the number one medium of the Games.
But initially, only Europe enjoyed live coverage. The cassettes were flown to the USA each day, then sent by train to the centre of New York, and finally “warmed up by the armpits” of ABC commentator Jim McKay, as they were still cold from their long journey in the aircraft hold above the Atlantic!
The 100m was won by Germany’s Armin Hary, who was representing both East and West Germany, an illustration of the promise of peace held out by the Games.

Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956: bobsleigh and cameras (1956-02-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956: bobsleigh and cameras

This is an image-orthicon television camera used to cover the 1956 Winter Games in Cortina d’Ampezzo (Italy).
The idea was not just to broadcast, but also tell a story using several cameras, so much so that it was more exciting to watch the competitions on television than from the stands!
That winter, four cameras were installed along the bobsleigh track, so television viewers could follow almost all of the race.

The “Radio-TV” badge (1956-02-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

L’insigne « radio-TV »

1956 Winter Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo (Italy): official radio and television badge.

Watching your teammates on TV (1964-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Watching your teammates on TV

In the Olympic Village at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, athletes could watch the television coverage of their teammates’ competitions.
This was the first time the Games had been held in Asia. Japan spent considerable sums on the organisation, particularly for the media, to show the world how it had recovered from the Second World War.

Close-up of Bob Hayes, 100m final, Tokyo 1964 (1964-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Colour, close-ups and slow motion… The videos of the men’s 100m at the Tokyo 1964 Games showed the tiniest details of African-American champion Robert (Bob) Hayes. Had we ever seen thigh muscles with such precision?
Television offered sports fans the chance to get closer to the athletes than ever before.

Mexico City 1968: advent of the portable camera (1968-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Mexico 1968 : avènement de la caméra portative

At the Mexico City press centre. Between 400 and 600 million viewers could follow the Games live, and this novel planetary communion generated hope for the world, as viewers wrote to the US network ABC:
“Your coverage should be an inspiration in these troubled times. The Olympics prove that dedicated people can cast aside their differences and strive for perfection.” 
This was the time of smaller, lighter, portable, colour cameras. The cameraman got close to film, reflecting reality and giving it a meaning. The watchword was now “organisation”. Mexicans, Japanese, Americans and Europeans created joint film teams for the biggest competitions. Some 45 cameras recorded the events under way at 18 venues.

1970s: The Games in colour on all five continents (1972-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

The Games in colour on all five continents

In the living room, the TV is in colour. On the screen, all the competitions are shown live. The whole world is now connected to the Games, gripped by the suspense, amazed by the performances.

Munich, 1972: filming Borzov (1972-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Some of the cameramen accompanied the runners – by running, guided and helped by a colleague just behind them. And they needed to be pretty quick to follow the men’s 100m on 1 September 1972, at the Games in Munich.
The gold medal went to the Soviet Union’s Valeriy Borzov, “the fastest man in the world”, also called the “human machine” or “robot” in reference to his iron will and perfect technique.

A colour television camera equipped with three Plumbicon tubes. (1972-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Une caméra de télévision couleur équipée de trois tubes Plumbicon

Munich 1972. Twenty-five competition venues were equipped with television cameras, the other 10 with cinema equipment – used for television.

The cameraman (1972-02-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum


1972 Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan. The man with the mini-camera on his helmet is about to film as he skis the downhill course (Alpine skiing competition). Miniaturisation of the equipment brought the cameras closer to the athletes and allowed viewers to be at the centre of the action.

Jeux de Moscou, 1980. (1980-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Montréal, 1976

An army of cameramen in very 70s-style orange jackets. Miniaturisation allowed them to film everything, everywhere, in every position!

Montreal, 1976. (1976-02-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

1980 Games in Moscow

Everyone remembers the emblem of these Games. Here it is on a portable radio, another symbol of the love story between the Games and the media.

1980s and 1990s: The Games in High Definition and in stereo (1984-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

1980s and 1990s: The Games in High Definition
and in stereo 

There are spectators and TV viewers. The former are carried by the enthusiasm of the crowd, and are excited by the feeling of being at the heart of the action. Those who remain on their couches now benefit from an incredible multiplicity of viewing angles… and a remote control, i.e. the best way of personalising their passion for sport. 

Los Angeles 1984: filming King Carl (1984-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

African American Carl Lewis won four gold medals: his results in the 100m, 200m, 4 x 100m and long jump were impressive. Cameras filmed King Carl from very close up, his muscles rolling under his skin, his jaw square and determined. The TV viewers were enthralled by his performance
Record-breaking Los Angeles Games! Two-and-a-half billion people watched the competitions on television for at least one minute. But 7.8 million tickets were sold: the emotion felt in the stands remains an irreplaceable experience.

1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, Canada. (1988-02-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Jeux d’hiver de 1988 à Calgary, au Canada

A total of 6,838 press armbands were needed for the journalists and media technicians who had come to cover the competitions!

Seoul 1988: Games, cameras and democracy (1988-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Seoul 1988: Games, cameras and democracy

When Seoul hosted the Games in September 1988, South Korea was enjoying impressive economic growth and taking the route of democracy. The imminence of the competitions forced the government to take the mass demonstrations of 1987 into account. A success for Olympism.
However, despite intense negotiations led by the IOC, North Korea boycotted the Games. To meet the growing needs of the electronic media, public TV channel KBS built an ultra-modern complex with nine storeys and of almost 64,000 m2, which hosted four TV studios, 14 radio studios and a 2,000-seat auditorium. Enough to do justice to the performances of these Games, including those of Steffi Graf (tennis) and Matt Biondi (swimming). Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who tested positive for steroids, lost his gold medal in the 100 metres. He was the first famous athlete to be disqualified for doping.

Barcelona 1992: Three-and-a-half billion people bathing in the Olympic spirit (1992-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Barcelone 1992 : l’esprit olympique souffle sur 3 milliards et demi d’humains

For the first time in 20 years, following the disappearance of the Eastern Bloc, there was not a single boycott. For the first time in 30 years, with the end of Apartheid, South Africa was allowed to compete. To celebrate this African reconciliation, Ethiopian runner Derartu Tulu performed a lap of honour with her South African rival, Elena Mayer. An Olympic moment par excellence! It was also in Barcelona that CDD cameras, normally used in astronomy, made their appearance, as did digital video recorders. Another new feature was touchscreens, which allowed the sports commentators to obtain information immediately and in real time. A foretaste of the arrival of the Internet! Some 3.5 billion people watched the Games on television that year.

Winter Games: the media boom (1988-02-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Winter Games: the media boom

Until 1994, the Winter Games took place in the same year as the Summer ones. But for financial reasons linked to advertising, the TV networks informed the IOC of their wish for the Summer/Winter Games to alternate every two years, which was accepted and would give the Winter Games greater visibility. They were no longer the poor relation of the Summer Games. In 1994, the Lillehammer Winter Games were broadcast in more than 120 countries, and on the African continent for the first time.
1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary. The microphone on the camera is no longer enough to reproduce atmospheric sound faithful to reality. Behind the cameraman, in a one-piece ski suit, the sound recorder and his boom play a decisive role.

Atlanta 1996: floating cameras (1996-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Atlanta 1996: floating cameras

How sophisticated! If Pierre de Coubertin could have seen this photo of cameras on pivoting stands above the Olympic Stadium, he would not have believed his eyes.

The noughties: Me, my Games and the Internet (2000-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

The noughties: Me, my
Games and the Internet

How can an event as global, universal and collective as the Olympic Games turn into an individual experience? Simple answer: the Internet! Another technological innovation at the beginning of this new millennium was 3D. The Games would continue to be a testing ground for technology.

London 2012, Usain Bolt, superstar. (2012-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt stares mockingly at the television viewer, miming the race with his index and middle fingers. His rivals each fooled around for the camera when their names were announced in the packed and supercharged Olympic Stadium. This was a show, and they the performers; and the incredible closeness of the camera brought them into direct contact with their fans. Usain Bolt smilingly put a finger to his lips to tell the spectators to be quiet, made the sign of the cross, and the race began. He won, with the second fastest time in history.

Digital mania (2000-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Digital mania

The arrival of the Internet would transform the habits of sports fans. Now they could follow the action wherever they were and choose the sport they wanted to watch. Television had brought the Games into people’s living rooms. Now they were everywhere - in offices, bedrooms, schools or cybercafés.

1998 Winter Games in Nagano (Japan) (1998-02-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

1998 Winter Games in Nagano (Japan)

The stomach of Pudgy the penguin bore the address: FanM@il, an IBM platform which allowed spectators to send congratulatory emails to the athletes. The Games in Nagano were the second to have their own website, after the ones in Atlanta in 1996.

London 2012 (2012-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Londres 2012

Since 2001, the International Olympic Committee has had its own filming and broadcasting service, Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS).
This means that coverage of the Games is no longer dependent solely on the host country.

London 2012: behind the scenes of a successful edition of the Games (2012-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Londres 2012: les coulisses d’une Olympiade réussie

Nine million tickets sold, highlights which included American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, impeccable organisation – and some notable technological experiments: 3D, multi-channel sound, 8K cameras. London 2012 was also 3.6 billion viewers, and, behind the scenes, 20,000 journalists and media technicians!

Welcome to the third dimension (2012-08-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Bienvenue dans la troisième dimension

It was in London, during the 2012 Games, that live broadcasting in 3D was trialled for the first time. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the men’s 100m were among the events used for this new technology, which had to be broadcast on a special television channel.
These spectators are watching a 3D broadcast of the Games at a special venue in the Olympic Park, the Panasonic full-HD 3D Theatre.

Sochi 2014: when digital overtook television (2014-02-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Sotchi 2014 : quand le numérique dépasse la télévision

A historic moment! At the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, there were more hours of Internet coverage than television broadcasts. The use of social media really took off, with more than 2.2 million new followers on all platforms, and 7.7 million fans on Facebook.

Tomorrow’s Games by IOCThe Olympic Museum


The third dimension (3D) and High Definition (HD) are already old news! Look out for these signs: 4K, 8K, HFR and HDR… Thanks to the progress of new technologies, the Games are now even more moving, immersive and cinematographic. The Games of the 2010s allow the web user to compose his own programme, share the enthusiasm of his fellow surfers in live time and swoon at images that are increasingly precise and faithful to reality.

My own broadcast. (2014-02-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

My own broadcast

Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) has constantly brought the Games closer to their fans. Since 2014, at the Winter Games in Sochi, the OVP Olympic video system application has allowed web users to compile their own programmes themselves! Available on computer, smartphone or tablet, OVP provides free access to events and statistics, with a much greater choice than on television.

Lausanne Federal Polytechnic (EPFL). (2013-02-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Lausanne Federal Polytechnic (EPFL)

It is a giant laboratory! And in this hive of innovations and specialised developments, the special work of the students and researchers in the Multimedia signal processing group, the Human computer interaction group and the Microelectronic Systems laboratory can help to make Olympic Games broadcasting even more surprising and personalised.

My eye, 360°. by IOCThe Olympic Museum

My eye, 360°

The panoptic camera is made up of a multitude of miniature cameras. It films in 360° in real time. It sees everything. The TV viewer can thus choose whatever angle and image he prefers, and see the Games just as he would like to! There are still a few obstacles to overcome: light contrasts, the increase in the number of images per second, or the delivery of a colossal amount of information to the four corners of the world.

Emotion Watch: Reliving the excitement together. (2013-02-01) by IOCThe Olympic Museum

Emotion Watch: Reliving the excitement together

I tweet, we tweet… Behind every screen, Games addicts communicate their allegiance to certain sports or athletes, and their emotions during competitions. What if we brought them together? Lausanne’s Federal Polytechnic (EPFL) created a program able to sort the tweets exchanged and file them by order of emotion. Graphics display, simply and instantly, the feelings of a whole community! Broadcasters can choose to show events depending on how many tweets they receive and the intensity of emotions. TV viewers are invited to compare their feelings, while affirming their adherence to the virtual Olympic community.

Credits: Story

The Olympic Museum - Culture and Education Programmes Unit (Lausanne, Switzerland).
Development and design
Westudio (Lausanne, Switzerland).
1900: Swiss Film Library collection.
1920-2000: IOC archives and Getty.
Tomorrow: “Panoptic Camera, EPFL-LSM, Sylvain Hauser; “Emotion watch”, EPFL-HCI; aerial view of the EPFL, EPFL, Alain Herzog.
1920: National Library of France with the authorization of the SACEM.
1900-tomorrow: IOC archives.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.