The Best of LIFE: Summer Olympics

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.