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Asked by Todd L Ross in
Olympic History
Olympic Symbols and Flag

What do the Olympic rings mean?

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Todd L Ross
July 03, 2019 4:20PM
olympic rings

The Olympic rings have been a powerful part of the international competition’s brand for nearly a century. Here’s how the Olympic charter describes the iconic symbol:

“The Olympic symbol consists of five interlaced rings of equal dimensions (the Olympic rings), used alone, in one or in five different colours. When used in its five-colour version, these colours shall be, from left to right, blue, yellow, black, green and red. The rings are interlaced from left to right; the blue, black and red rings are situated at the top, the yellow and green rings at the bottom.”

The symbol was designed by Pierre de Coubertin, who co-founded the modern Olympics in 1894. He intended the rings to represent the five continents participating in the games—at the time, the Americas were considered one continent, and Antarctica obviously doesn’t participate. We should note that Coubertin used the term “continent" in a very loose sense, and he didn’t intend for any individual ring to represent a specific part of the globe.

Coubertin saw the Olympics as a way to promote peace, and he unveiled the ring design in 1914 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the International Olympic Committee’s founding. He didn’t intend the design to be a permanent symbol, and it’s possible he came up with the “continent" idea after the fact. Some historians believe he actually intended the rings to represent the five successful Olympic games that had been held prior to the 20th anniversary celebration.

There’s some additional symbolism hidden in the symbol’s design: The colors—blue, yellow, black, green, red, and white—aren’t random. As Coubertin explained in 1931, “the six colors are those that appear on all the national flags of the world at the present time."