High up on Mount Olympus, twelve gods convene to dine on ambrosia. Having overthrown the Titans, they fortify their immortality to better command their human creations into total obedience. As the pantheon peers toward the mortals below, they witness a spectacle held in their honor—the Olympic games.
Although the Olympians departed long ago, their influence over the Olympics has been indelible. From the Promethean passing of the torch to the “crowning” ceremony,1 we owe much to Greek mythology for this most unifying of events.
In the age of man, the modern Olympic Games still crowns new champions every four years.2 These champions exemplify the ancient “sound mind in a sound body”3 ideal, bolstered by human interest stories that have formed a new mythology.
Now that the London Olympics have closed, the tally of triumphs is complete. Many champions emerged, but in deference to the original Olympians,4 only 12 inductees should form the new pantheon, basing admittance on each athlete’s alignment to a particular Olympian profile.
- Renaud Lavillenie/Zeus: Zeus was the god of the sky. Though Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian, France’s Lavillenie ruled the skies with his record-setting, 5.97-meter vault.
- Dana Torres/Hera: As queen of the gods, Hera governed women and families. Torres may have missed this year’s Olympics, but her incredible career included a gold medal only months after having a child.
- Michael Phelps/Poseidon: Poseidon was the god of the sea and earthquakes. Shattering Olympic records, Phelps’ 22 medals make him the greatest swimmer in the sport.
- Gijs Van Hoecke/Dionysus: Dionysus oversaw wine and celebrations. While most Olympians let loose after four sober years, Belgian cyclist Gijs Van Hoecke probably won the gold in that event.
- Jason Kenny/Apollo: Apollo, the sun god, moved the light-giving star across the sky daily. Only Britain’s Kenny, the gold medalist in track cycling, has the legs to make that possible.
- Ki Bo-bae/Artemis: Artemis, goddess of the hunt, was frequently depicted with a bow. South Korean Ki’s recapturing of the women’s individual gold makes her the world’s premier female archer.
- Usain Bolt/Hermes: Hermes was the messenger and commerce god, known for his ability to move between worlds. Bolt’s astonishing speed and knack for brand-building make him the best candidate here.
- Laura Asadauskaite/Athena: Athena was the versatile goddess of wisdom, strategy and skill, among other disciplines. Lithuania’s Asadauskaite won the modern pentathlon, which involves fencing, pistol shooting, swimming, horseback jumping and running.
- Behdad Salimikordasiabi/Ares: The god of war, Ares, was known for his strength. Iranian weightlifter Salimikordasiabi made his country proud by lifting 545 pounds for the gold.
- Leryn Franco/Aphrodite: As the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite was incredible to behold. Many consider the Paraguayan javelin thrower and model to be the most beautiful Olympian.
- Oscar Pistorius/Hephaestus: Hephaestus, though disabled, commanded technology and the forge. South African Pistorius was the first double-amputee to compete at the Olympics, sprinting with the aid of carbon fiber leg prosthetics.
- Gabby Douglas/Demeter: Demeter was the goddess of the harvest. Douglas’ inspirational individual win led the U.S. women’s gymnastics team to gold and earned her place on a cereal box.
Miles Seiden is a senior designer for the Siegel+Gale Los Angeles office.
1. The original coronation—a wreath of laurel leaves placed on victors’ heads, now replaced by medals and flowers—referenced the god Apollo.
2. Although today there are both winter and summer games, each occurs according to the same four-year span (olympiad) as the original incarnation of the games.
3. Oddly enough, this aphorism is best known as Mens sana in corpore sano, having been appropriated by those conquerors of the Greeks, the Romans.
4. There are differing takes on the exact number and membership, but I’ve based this set on a comprehensive site on Greek mythology—The Theoi Project.