Athletes and Olympians

Linford Christie, by Alistair Morrison, February 1996 - NPG  - © Alistair Morrison

Linford Christie
by Alistair Morrison
February 1996
NPG x77035

Past display archive
20 March - 28 September 2008

Room 31 case display


In August 2008, the formal handover of the Olympic flag marks the start of the London 2012 Olympiad. To celebrate the occasion, this display brings together a selection of great British Olympians of the twentieth century. Drawn from the Gallery's Collection, these portraits include well-known sporting stars of recent years, such as Linford Christie, and also figures from an earlier era, including the tennis player, Kitty Godfree.

This year also marks the centenary of London's first Olympic Games in 1908 that took place at the specially built White City stadium in Shepherd's Bush. Three competitors from that historic Olympics are included in this display, alongside a fascinating group of photographs that records the visit of the American Olympic team to the Houses of Parliament during the competition.

Some of the early photographs are formal studio portraits that conceal the sporting achievements of the sitters. The great sprinter Harold Abrahams, winner of a gold medal in the 1924 Paris Olympics, is shown wearing a formal suit, suitable for his other career as a barrister. More recent portraits, such as Alistair Morrison's portrait of Steve Cram sprinting, tend to be more dynamic and focus on the athleticism of the subject.

Sir Roger Bannister; Sir Christopher John Chataway, by Central Press, 6 May 1954 - NPG  - © Getty Images

Sir Roger Bannister; Sir Christopher John Chataway
by Central Press
6 May 1954
NPG x45737

Colin Jackson, by Trevor Leighton, 10 February 1994 - NPG  - © Trevor Leighton / National Portrait Gallery, London

Colin Jackson
by Trevor Leighton
10 February 1994
NPG x47387

Sebastian Coe, Baron Coe, by Alistair Morrison, March 1996 - NPG  - © Alistair Morrison

Sebastian Coe, Baron Coe
by Alistair Morrison
March 1996
NPG x77024

Steve Backley, by Anderson & Low, 16 April 1999 - NPG  - © Anderson and Low; all rights reserved

Steve Backley
by Anderson & Low
16 April 1999
NPG x125678

Tessa Sanderson, by Anderson & Low, 1996 - NPG  - © Anderson and Low; all rights reserved

Tessa Sanderson
by Anderson & Low
NPG x87580

Jayne Torvill; Christopher Colin Dean, by Trevor Leighton, 13 August 1997 - NPG  - © Trevor Leighton / National Portrait Gallery, London

Jayne Torvill; Christopher Colin Dean
by Trevor Leighton
13 August 1997
NPG x131623