LIFE magazine Olympic covers through the years.
LIFE magazine Olympic covers through the years.LIFE Magazine
LIFE magazine Olympic covers through the years.
Javelin winner Herma Baumer at the 1948 summer Olympics in London.
Jamaican athlete Herb McKenley standing on a track at the 1948 summer Olympics in London.
Competitors diving into pool during swimming events at the 1948 summer Olympics in London.
US decathlon winner Robert B. Mathias waiting for turn at pole vault at the 1948 summer Olympics in London.
Czech track and field gold medalist Emil Zatopek leading pack during the 1952 Olympic games in Helsinki, Finland.
Cycling at the 1952 summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finaland.
Athletes competing in the 10,000-meter walk at the 1952 summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.
Robert B. Mathias attempting the pole vault at 1952 summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.
Gunhild Larking, Sweden's entry for the high jump, clearing the high bar during the 1956 summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
Fencers competing in the 1956 summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
US Runner Wilma Rudolph winning women's 100-meter race at the 1960 summer Olympics in Rome, Italy.
German Armin Harry (C) during men's 100-meter dash event at the 1960 summer Olympics in Rome, Italy.
U.S. platform diver Frank Gorman competing in the 1964 summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
U. S. swimmers competing during the 1964 summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
American track stars Tommie Smith (C) and John Carlos (R) standing on podium after winning gold and bronze Olympic medals, respectively, raising black-gloved fists, in support of civil rights/black power, while Australian silver medalist Peter Norman stands by at the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico.
US swimmer Mark Spitz training for the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany.
US wrestler eventual gold medal winner Wayne Wells (top) overpowering W. German Adolf Seger in freestyle welterweight elimination match at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany.
US track athlete Steve Prefontaine running a race at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany.
U.S. gymnast Ludmila Turishcheva in action on the vault at during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany.
Kenyan track star Kipchoge Keino finishing ahead of teammate Ben Jipcho (574) in the 3,000-meter steeplechase final at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany.
LIFE magazine Olympic covers through the years.
LIFE Magazine
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The Best of LIFE: Summer Olympics

Correction appended, Aug. 8, 2016

Great sports photography is an art of its own, and there are few chances to practice that art like the Olympics. As the world’s athletes gather to compete, so too do the photographers who capture them in action.

During LIFE Magazine’s decades as a source of the world’s most iconic photography, the magazine covered its fair share of Olympics. The images produced are as varied as the sports they portray. The photographs show the quiet moments before the race begins. They show the concentration and strength needed to win—and the joy of knowing you might have done so. They show the graceful, almost abstract, forms of bodies in motion, and the iconic moments when athletes become legends.

Now, as 2016’s athletes get ready for the official start of the Rio Olympics, here’s a look back at some of the best LIFE Magazine photography from the summer Olympics.

Correction: A caption in the original version of this gallery misstated which Olympic team gymnast Ludmila Turishcheva represented. She is Russian.

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