Olympic Feathers

all 5000 gold medal winners of the Olympic Games since 1896

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Olympic Feathers


August 2016


data sketches’ August month


Excel, R, Sketch/Illustrator, D3.js


All medals from 2008 and earlier come from this article, all from 2012 from this article and 2016 I added manually. Note that I had to clean up both articles for several wrong/missing medals.


More than 5000 Olympic events have had a winner in the Summer Olympics since the first games of 1896. In “Olympic Feathers” you can investigate to see how each of these medals has been won in the 56 different sporting disciplines that have competed at the games, of which 41 are still held at Rio 2016.

Each circle represents a grouping of several different (but approximately) similar themed sports, such as water or ball sports. The editions of the Olympic Games are the rings radiating outward, with the oldest in the center and 2016 at the outer edge. Each slice within a circle is one sporting discipline, with female events on the reddish half and the male events on the blue half. Finally, each medal is given the color of the continent in which the country lies that won (e.g. Europe is blue).


In the week before the Olympics started in Rio, I had an idea for a visualization. Something about all the medal winners since the very first Olympic Games in 1896. I thought there would be more than enough datasets about the medallists, but was surprised to find only one (created by the Guardian). Eventually, the data preparation took about 12 hours and then about 15 minutes each day during the Olympics to update the medal dataset with the previous day’s winners.

My first design concept was to visualize each of the 56 disciplines that have been competing at the Olympics as a “feather” and use the inside of the feather to place all of the medals according to the edition and gender. The feather shape didn’t make the final cut, but the name Olympic Feathers never changed. All of the coding happened in the first week of the Olympics. My days looked very similar then; after my normal working day I came home, put on the Olympics, made & ate dinner, started coding with the Olympics on the background until it was past my bedtime and at some point managed to go to bed. A colleague at work then, Jeroen de Lange, who is the creative director at Adyen, helped me to get the design to the next level. With nice typographic layouts and advice to improve the overall look (and killing some of my darlings, which were for the better). It was quite a tiring week, but it was so much fun to code and learn many things from the data and visualization that I never knew about the Olympics. It’s a visualization that takes a bit of time to understand, but once you do there are loads of interesting facts to find. Just the way I like to make them.

You can read more about the data preparation, design and coding on the data sketches August write-up.