The History of Flowers at the Olympics Games

Olive Laurel Wreath Olive laurel wreaths were used in ancient Olympic Games.

Every four years the overwhelming event known as the Olympic Games captures the entire world as all of the greatest athletes gather together to proudly compete for their home country. With almost 300 events in 26 different sporting events, sometimes the minor details and hard work that go into the Olympics tend to get overlooked. One of those things is something that everyone sees but does not necessarily understand the importance of: the flower bouquets.

The history of flowers at the Olympic Games dates all the way back to Ancient Greece, the competing athletes in the first games were given Olive leaf wreathes that were placed on their heads. At the time this was the only reward the athletes received, the medals did not come until much later. The presence of flowers finally sprung up during the Victorian era, where each individual flower was thought to have a different meaning. These meanings have carried over into the present representations of the Olympic Bouquets given to athletes on the champions’ podium after every event.

Today, there is a very competitive and specific selection process as to who gets the opportunity to design the host country’s bouquet. The entire process is observed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as numerous florists from the host country place their bids for the right to honor their country with their design of the Olympic Bouquet. What many people do not know are the numerous rules and regulations every design must take into account before allowed to be presented to the IOC. Many of the rules are common sense, such as size, cost and availability, but some other rules you may not have thought about. Bouquets must be pollen and scent-free to protect athletes with allergies. Also, the bouquets must be sturdy enough to be manhandled, while at the same time be free of sharp edges and points. After all, in all the excitement who doesn’t want to celebrate their tremendous victory by tossing their bouquet in the air amongst crowds of fans? In the end, one cannot simply expect to gain the IOC’s favor by simply following all the rules.

Gold Medal Olympian with Olympic BouquetThe florist who eventually wins the honor to design the Olympic Bouquet must focus on incorporating their national identity into color and flower selection. Many designers in the past have simply fused their country’s national colors into an arrangement with numerous local flowers. However, in more recent events designers have celebrated the Olympic spirit by incorporating their community into the process as well. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, florists June Strandberg and Margitta Schultz used their design process to help out at-risk women in the Vancouver area. They went to nearby prisons and shelters for women with drug and abuse problems to teach their trade. The women hoped that by doing this some of the women would have experience in a trade they could eventually turn into a career when they were reintroduced into society. The IOC certainly took this into account when they made their selection as the Olympic spirit is all about community and unity.

So when you are watching the 2012 London summer games, make sure to think about all the hard work and planning that goes into the almost 4,400 bouquets the champion athletes will hoist in the air with pride.

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