What is the Symbolism Behind the Olympic Rings?

What is the Symbolism Behind the Olympic Rings?

Updated Dec 3, 2019

With the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia underway and the unfortunate malfunction of one of the rings during the opening ceremonies, discussions about the infamous Olympic logo have become quite popular in social media. One topic of conversation is the logo’s symbolism, but there are a couple of popular misconceptions about exactly what the flag represents.


The story of the Olympic rings logo goes back about a century. The first olympic games was held in Athens, Greece in 1896, but it wasn’t until the 1912 games in Stockholm, Sweden that athletes from all 5 continents attended and competed. In 1913, Pierre de Coubertin—founder of the International Olympic Committee—hand-drew the 5 interlocking rings for the first time. One year later, Pierre formalized his idea for a logo and flag and presented it to the Olympic Congress. The flag most likely would have flown at the 1916 games, but World War I prevented them from being held. Therefore, the Olympic flag officially flew for the first time in 1920 when Antwerp, Belgium hosted the games.


The olympic flag consists of 5 rings colored blue, yellow, black, green, and red, all sitting on a white background. The rings themselves represent the 5 major continents: America, Africa, Australia, Europe and Asia. An important fact to note here is that no specific ring represents a certain continent. For instance, many people believe the red ring represents America. This is not true. America is represented by a ring, but not specifically the red ring.

In fact, the colors actually refer to nations’ flags. The 6 colors in the Olympics logo (5 colored rings plus a white background) are used to represent the 6 colors found on all of the nations’ flags that existed at the time of the logo’s creation.

From Pierre de Coubertin himself:

The Olympic flag ... has a white background, with five interlaced rings in the centre: blue, yellow, black, green and red ... This design is symbolic; it represents the five continents of the world, united by Olympism, while the six colours are those that appear on all the national flags of the world at the present time.

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