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Bringing the Olympic Games into Your Classroom with Primary Sources

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This post is by Rebecca Newland, the Library of Congress 2013-14 Teacher in Residence.

Do you have students who love winter sports? The upcoming winter Olympics will provide lots of opportunities to watch intense competition and celebrate the glorious triumphs of the athletes. Why not engage students’ energy and interest with Library of Congress primary source items related to both historical winter Olympic teams and winter sports?

The first ever wintertime Olympics took place in 1924 from January 25 – February 5, in Chamonix, France. This article from a 1922 newspaper lists some of the events for the winter games, as well as for the 1924 summer Olympics. Are they the same sports that are offered today? Take a deeper look by researching the sports that have been included throughout the history of the winter Olympics and discuss why particular sports might have been added or removed.

Olympic bobsled run, Lake Placid
Olympic bobsled run, Lake Placid

Lake Placid, New York, was home to both the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games. To celebrate the 1932 games the WPA Art Project created vivid color posters that featured bobsledding, a sport that has been contested in nearly every winter Olympics.   Compare these to modern print ads featuring the Olympics or Olympic athletes.

  • What impact do the pieces have on the viewer?
  • What details evoke the excitement and glory of the games?

    First American Hockey Team, 1920
    First American Olympic hockey team

Ice hockey, another Olympic sport, saw a surge in popularity in the United States of America during the 1980 Olympics, when the USA unexpectedly triumphed over the Soviet team.  Compare the uniforms and equipment of the first men’s Olympic ice hockey team to today’s.  How has the equipment changed and why did it change? This discussion could tie into current discussions on safety equipment in professional and youth sports.

Because one purpose of the games is to promote good-will and inspire national pride, ask students who are following the games to share an “Olympic Moment” from one sport and to find a primary source from the Library’s collections to represent that sport. What insights can you discover from comparing these sports today with their earlier versions?

Comments (2)

  1. the philasophies,game is to macking independence between all people and olympic or world champion help us that learning leave with us without agressive behavior we can together race but in the safe space

  2. There are wonderful ideas on how to incorporate the Winter Olympics into the classroom. My students have been talking about the Olympics without any prompting, so I’m sure they would love to take a look at some primary sources and dig deeper into the history of the Olympics.

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