The symbol of the Olympic Games is composed of five interlocking rings, colored blue, yellow, black, green, and red on a white field. This was originally designed in 1912 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. These five rings stand for passion, faith, victory, work ethic, and sportsmanship. Upon its initial introduction, de Coubertin stated the following in the August, 1912 edition of Revue Olympique:
- The emblem chosen to illustrate and represent the world Congress of 1914 …: five intertwined rings in different colors – blue, yellow, black, green, red – are placed on the white field of the paper. These five rings represent the five parts of the world which now are won over to Olympism and willing to accept healthy competition.
In his article published in the “Olympic Revue” the official magazine of the International Olympic Committee in November 1992, the American historian Robert Barney explains that the idea of the interlaced rings came to Pierre de Coubertin when he was in charge of the USFSA, an association founded by the union of two French sports associations and until 1925, responsible for representing the International Olympic Committee in France: The emblem of the union was two interlaced rings (like the vesica piscis typical interlaced marriage rings) and originally the idea of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung because for him the ring meant continuity and the human being.
According to De Coubertin the ring colors stand for those colors that appeared on all the national flags of the world at that time.
The 1914 Congress had to be suspended due to the outbreak of World War I, but the symbol (and flag) were later adopted. They would first officially debut at the VIIth Olympiad in Antwerp, Belgium in 1920.
The symbol’s popularity and widespread use began during the lead-up to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Carl Diem, president of the Organizing Committee of the 1936 Summer Olympics, wanted to hold a torchbearers’ ceremony in the stadium atDelphi, site of the famous oracle, where the Pythian Games were also held. For this reason he ordered construction of a milestone with the Olympic rings carved in the sides, and that a torchbearer should carry the flame along with an escort of three others from there to Berlin. The ceremony was celebrated but the stone was never removed. Later, two British authors Lynn and Gray Poole when visiting Delphi in the late 1950s saw the stone and reported in their “History of the Ancient Games” that the Olympic rings design came from ancient Greece. This has become known as “Carl Diem’s Stone”. This created a myth that the symbol had an ancient Greek origin. The rings would subsequently be featured prominently in Nazi images in 1936 as part of an effort to glorify the Third Reich.
The current view of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is that the symbol “reinforces the idea” that the Olympic Movement is international and welcomes all countries of the world to join. As can be read in the Olympic Charter, the Olympic symbol represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games. However, no continent is represented by any specific ring. Though colorful explanations about the symbolism of the colored rings exist (for example, it is said that the five Olympic rings are blue, yellow, black, green, and red because at least one of these colors appears on every national flag), the only connection between the rings and the continents is that the number five refers to the number of continents. In this scheme, The Americas are viewed as a single continent, and Antarctica is omitted. The current 5 continents are Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.