As days increasingly become driven by 2D interactions, abstract concepts and sanitized experiences, people crave a connection to the corporeal, especially in imagery. As a result, the brute force and physicality of sport holds a guttural, visceral appeal like never before.

Getty Images search data reveals this increasing hunger for the super-sensory—think: grimy, sweaty, bloody, human. In the last year, searches for “super sensory” and “imperfection” increased by 83 percent and 68 percent respectively, while searches for “grit texture” increased by a whopping 1,577 percent.

People want to plug into the primal, and few events offer as rich and messy and physical a visual feast as the Olympics.

Messy is the new pretty. Battle scars from a wrestling match in Beijing 2008 leave Georgia’s George Gogshelidze with a swelling, discoloring mask so graphic you can almost feel the headache coming on.


A response to the streamlined perfection of aspirational ad campaigns, we’re hungry for the unrefined and the authentic.  For this 2008 Mountain Bike crash shot, it boils down to dirt, sweat, downed bikes and flying pigtails.


A spirit of unpredictability and wonder pries us out of the listless torpor of the expected. Finnish rider RA Kulstila’s unplanned dismount in the Equestrian Olympics in Stockholm offers the viewer an experience that feels at once surprising and genuine.


This photo of China’s Sui Lu chalking up in 2012 illustrates an emerging urge to be in the trenches with our subjects. The deliberate mussing-up and disarray in this shot create an air of defiance and authenticity that feeds our need to feel what we’re seeing.


An exaltation of the most basic physical experiences we share with athletic superstars, we revel in the human, the primeval, the uncomfortable. Here, up close and personal with German Rower Christine Huth, doing what we all do under duress.


A wig of water transforms Michael Phelps into a swimming Abominable Snowman in the Athens Games, 2000. A departure from the standard swim-photo fare, such a disfiguring portrait suggests agency, activity, autonomy and play.


With modern adult life so far removed from the whimsy and play—and dirt—of childhood, we want visuals that give us that elementary sense of freedom. This shot of Brazilian Triple Jumper Jefferson Sabino lands us right where we want to be.


Untidy, cacophonous and evocative, this snap of the Australian Women’s Freestyle Relay team celebrating after their London 2012 win is a jumbled hill of body parts and emotion. Low on order, high on feeling.


Our visual tastes reveal a craving for disorder, rebellion and randomness – and the revelation and wonder inherent in them. Canada’s Kaylyn Kyle and France’s Camille Abily create an abstract impressionist portrait of Women’s Soccer in London, 2012.


 Check out all the mess, grime and sweat from Rio 2016:


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