The image of the five inter-locked Olympic rings is a potent brand today but its birth was shorn of fanfare.
The image of the five inter-locked Olympic rings is a potent brand today but its birth was shorn of fanfare. Pierre de Coubertin always had romantic notions about the modern Olympic Games which he helped to found in 1896. He wanted the Games to unite the world. The dream took time to materialise as only in the fourth edition at Stockholm in 1912 were all five continents actually represented.
Perhaps inspired by the inclusive nature of the 1912 Games, de Coubertin drew five rings on the top of a letter he wrote in 1913. He coloured the rings by hand. The Frenchman was quick to present the rings and the Olympic flag featuring them at the IOC Congress in Paris the next year.
It was at the 1920 Antwerp Games where the flag, which initially had the Olympic motto, Citius-Altius-Fortius, was first raised.
It was ironic that de Coubertin came up with a logo to stress unity among nations in the year that saw World War I break out. Although the Games scheduled to be held at Berlin in 1914 were cancelled, the rings endured to become central to the Olympic imagery.
de Coubertin dispelled misconceptions that the colour of the rings represented a particular continent. “The Olympic flag has a white background with five interlaced rings in the centre: blue, yellow, black, green and red. The design is symbolic; it represents five continents of the world, united by Olympism, while the six colours (including white) are those that appear on all the national flags of the world at the present time,” the Frenchman said.
The rings, among the most recognisable logos today, figure in the emblem of almost all national Olympic committees. The Olympic flag has become an integral part in the ritual of the Games.
Like national flags, its design has inviolable rules. It’s raised in the opening ceremony and is lowered during the closing ceremony to indicate that the Games have come to an end. It’s then passed by the mayor of the host city to the mayor of the next host city through the IOC chief.
Baron de Coubertin was wrongly credited with the Olympic motto. The three Latin words weren’t his creation; he borrowed them from his friend and Dominican priest, Henri Didon. de Coubertin borrowed the idea for the Olympic credo — The most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight — from the Bishop of Pennsylvania, Ethelbert Talbot, during the 1908 London Games.