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The Olympic symbols are icons, flags and symbols used by the International Olympic Committee to promote the Olympic Games. Some—such as the flame, fanfare, and theme—are more common during Olympic competition, but others, such as the flag, can be seen throughout the year.



The Olympic motto is the hendiatris Citius, Altius, Fortius , which is Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger". The motto was proposed by Pierre de Coubertin on the creation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894. De Coubertin borrowed it from his friend Henri Didon, a Dominican priest who, amongst other things, was an athletics enthusiast. The motto was introduced in 1924 at the Olympic Games in Paris.[1]

The motto was also the name of an Olympic history journal from 1995 to 1997, when it was renamed the Journal of Olympic History.

A more informal but well known motto, also introduced by De Coubertin, is "The most important thing is not to win but to take part!" De Coubertin got this motto from a sermon by the Bishop of Pennsylvania during the 1908 London Games [2].

Olympic rings

The five Olympic rings represent the five continents and were designed in 1913, adopted in 1914 and debuted at the Games at Antwerp, 1920.

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. 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, and 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.

These five rings represent the five (inhabited) continents of the world: Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania (including Australia).

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.[3]

According to De Coubertin the ring colors with the white background 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 Games of the VII 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 at Delphi, 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".[4] 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.[5] 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. Prior to 1951, the official handbook stated that each colour corresponded to a particular continent: blue for Europe, yellow for Asia, black for Africa, green for Australia and red for America (North and South considered as a single continent); this was removed there was no evidence Coubertin had intended it.[6]

Despite misconceptions, the black ring may not be simply swapped out for a white ring if the symbol is placed on a dark-colored background. The rings may be produced in either an interlocking or solid version. The solid version may be produced only for single colour reproduction in the following colours: blue, yellow, black, green or red from the Olympic Rings, or white, grey, gold, silver or bronze. The interlocking version may be produced in any of the aforementioned colours, or in full colour. Reproduction on a dark background is limited to monochromatic yellow, white, grey, gold, silver or bronze. Full colour on a dark background is strictly forbidden.

Olympic emblems

Each Olympic Games has its own Olympic emblem, which is a design integrating the Olympic rings with one or more distinctive elements. They are created and proposed by the Organizing Committee or the National Olympic Committee of the host country. It is the responsibility of the International Olympic Committee to approve Olympic emblems for the Olympic games. The Olympic emblems are used in in promotional materials, by sponsors of the Olympics, on the uniforms of every Olympic competitor.


The Olympic flag flying in Victoria, Canada in recognition of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver

Created by Pierre De Coubertin in 1914.

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 inhabited continents of the world, united by Olympism, while the six colors are those that appear on all the national flags of the world at the present time.

—Pierre De Coubertin (1931)[7]

Specific flags

There are specific Olympic flags that are displayed by cities that will be hosting the next Olympic games. During each Olympic closing ceremony in what is traditionally known as the Antwerp Ceremony,[8] the flag is passed from the mayor of one host city to the next host, where it will then be taken to the new host and displayed at city hall. These flags should not be confused with the larger Olympic flags designed and created specifically for each games, which are flown over the host stadium and then retired. Because there is no specific flag for this purpose, the flags flown over the stadiums generally have subtle differences, including minor color variations, and, more noticably, the presence (or lack) of white outlines around each ring.

Antwerp flag

The first Olympic flag was presented to the IOC at the 1920 Summer Olympics by the city of Antwerp, Belgium. At the end of the Games, the flag could not be found and a new Olympic flag had to be made for the 1924 Summer Olympics (see below). In 1997, at a banquet hosted by the US Olympic Committee, a reporter was interviewing Hal Haig Prieste who had won a bronze medal in platform diving as a member of the 1920 US Olympic team. The reporter mentioned that the IOC had not been able to find out what had happened to the original Olympic flag. "I can help you with that," Prieste said, "It's in my suitcase." At the end of the Antwerp Olympics, spurred on by team-mate Duke Kahanamoku, he climbed a flagpole and stole the Olympic flag. For 77 years the flag was stored away in the bottom of his suitcase. The flag was returned to the IOC by Prieste, by then 103 years old, in a special ceremony held at the 2000 Games in Sydney[9]. The Antwerp Flag is now on display at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, with a plaque thanking him for donating it.

After Prieste's theft of the original Antwerp flag, a new one was created for the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Despite it being a replacement, the IOC officially still calls this the "Antwerp Flag" instead of the "Paris Flag" [10] It was passed on to the next organizing city of the Summer Olympics or Winter Olympics until the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway when a separate Olympic flag was created to be used only at the Winter Olympics (see below).

The 1924 flag then continued to be used at the Summer Olympics until the Games of Seoul 1988 when it was retired.

Oslo flag

The Oslo flag was presented to the IOC by the mayor of Oslo, Norway during the 1952 Winter Olympics. Since then, it has been passed to the next organizing city for the Winter Olympics. Currently, the actual Oslo flag is kept preserved in a special box, and a replica has been used during recent closing ceremonies instead.[11]

Seoul flag

Flag of South Korea alongside an Olympic Flag in Olympic Park, Seoul

As a successor to the Antwerp Flag,[12] the Seoul flag was presented to the IOC at the 1988 Summer Olympics by the city of Seoul, South Korea, and has since then been passed on to the next organizing city of the Summer Olympics.

Flame and torch relay

Months before the Games are held, the Olympic Flame is lit on a torch, with the rays of the Sun concentrated by a parabolic reflector, at the site of the Ancient Olympics in Olympia, Greece. The torch is then taken out of Greece, most often to be taken around the country or continent where the Games are held. The Olympic torch is carried by athletes, leaders, celebrities and ordinary people alike, and at times in unusual conditions, such as being electronically transmitted via satellite for Montreal 1976, or submerged underwater without being extinguished for Sydney 2000. On the final day of the torch relay, the day of the Opening Ceremony, the Flame reaches the main stadium and is used to light a cauldron situated in a prominent part of the venue to signify the beginning of the Games. Then it is left to burn throughout the Games till the Closing Ceremony, when it is extinguished to signify the end of the Games. Only twice has the Olympic Flame actually been carried over more than one continent, i.e. Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, both of which had actually involved all five continents.


The Olympic medals awarded to winners are another symbol associated with the Olympic games. The medals are made of gold-plated silver (commonly described as gold medals), silver, or bronze, and awarded to the top 3 finishers in a particular event. Each medal for an Olympiad has a common design, decided upon by the organizers for the particular games. From 1928 until 2000, the obverse side of the medals contained an image of Nike, the traditional goddess of victory, holding a palm in her left hand and a winners crown in her right. This design was created by Giuseppe Cassioli. For each Olympic games, the reverse side as well as the labels for each Olympiad changed, reflecting the host of the games.[13]

In 2004, the obverse side of the medals changed to make more explicit reference to the Greek character of the games. In this design, the goddess Nike flies into the Panathenic stadium, reflecting the renewal of the games. Since then the medals don't have a common side as the design for both sides is decided by the host organizers.[14]


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The Olympic Hymn, also known informally as the Olympic Anthem, is played when the Olympic Flag is raised. It is a musical piece composed by Spyridon Samaras with words written from a poem of the Greek poet and writer Kostis Palamas. Both the poet and the composer were the choice of Demetrius Vikelas, a great Greek Pro-European and the first President of the IOC. The anthem was performed for the first time for the ceremony of opening of the 1896 Athens Olympic Games but wasn't declared the official hymn by the IOC until 1957. In the following years every hosting nation commissioned the composition of a specific Olympic hymn for their own edition of the Games. This happened up until the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.

Leo Arnaud's "Bugler's Dream" is often considered the most famous Olympic theme. Written in 1958 for Arnaud's Charge Suite, it is this piece, more than any of the fanfares or Olympic themes, that Americans recognize as the Olympic theme, a connection which began when ABC television used it in broadcasts for the 1964 Olympics, and was continued in subsequent years by ABC and NBC. According to United States Olympic Committee spokesman Mike Moran, many athletes include this piece in the music they listen to while preparing for competition.[citation needed] Arnaud's piece is stately, beginning with a timpani cadence that is soon joined by a distinctive theme in brass.

John Williams composed the "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" for the 1984 Olympic Games, which were held in Los Angeles. It was released in its entirety on the albums "The Official Music of the XXIIIrd Olympiad Los Angeles 1984" and "The Official Music of the 1984 Games," with the latter made available on CD. The premiere recording was performed by an orchestra composed of Los Angeles-area musicians under the baton of the composer. A slightly different arrangement of the piece was released on the Philips album "By Request: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra."

In 1996, an alternate version of "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" was released on the album Summon the Heroes for the Atlanta Olympic Games. In this arrangement, the first part of the piece was replaced with Arnaud's "Bugler's Dream." Although perhaps not as familiar as Arnaud's theme, it is hardly unknown, since it also is still used in network coverage of the Olympics.

"Olympic Fanfare and Theme" (not including the familiar part by Arnaud) was awarded a Grammy in 1985.

The Williams theme was used during the closing ceremony of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, as the nations' flagbearers entered BC Place surrounding the Olympic Flame. It was again used as the Olympic Flag was brought into the stadium by Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson prior to it being handed over to Anatoly Pakhomov, the mayor of Sochi, Russia, where the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held.

Another piece by Williams, "The Olympic Spirit", was written for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and the corresponding NBC broadcast. The piece utilizes the brass, wind, and percussion sections heavily. Williams also wrote the official theme of the 1996 Atlanta summer games, "Summon the Heroes", and the 2002 Salt Lake City winter games, "Call of the Champions."


The kotinos (Greek: κοτινος) is an olive branch intertwined to form a circle. To be crowned with this wreath was the award that the athletes of the ancient Olympic Games competed for. However, this was not their only reward; usually the athlete was rewarded with a generous sum of money by his hometown.

At Athens 2004 the kotinos tradition was renewed, although in this case it was bestowed together with the gold medal. Apart from its use in the awards-ceremonies, the kotinos was chosen as the 2004 Summer Olympics emblem.

Olympic salute

Gra Rueb Olympic salute 1.jpg

The Olympic salute is a variant of the Roman salute, with the right arm and hand are stretched and pointing upward, the palm is outward and downward, with the fingers touching. However, the arm is raised higher and at an angle to the right from the shoulder.[15][16]

The greeting is visible on the official posters of the games at Paris 1924[15] and Berlin 1936.[17] Also famous is the French and Canadian teams entering the Olympic stadium in Berlin, 1936 with their arms raised. In the Leni Riefenstahl film Olympia this scene was captured, and afterwards led to repeated misinterpretations suggesting that the French and Canadian delegations were saluting Hitler.

Since the Second World War the greeting has fallen out of use due the possibility of it being mistaken for the Nazi salute, although no official stance has been taken on the matter by the IOC.


Since the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France the Olympic Games have had a mascot, usually an animal native to the area or occasionally human figures representing the cultural heritage. The first major mascot in the Olympic Games was Misha in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Misha was used extensively during the opening and closing ceremonies, had a TV animated cartoon and appeared on several merchandise products. Nowadays, most of the merchandise aimed at young people focuses on the mascots, rather than the Olympic flag or organization logos.

Intellectual property

The Olympic Movement is very protective of its symbols; as many jurisdictions have given the movement exclusive rights to any interlocking arrangement of five rings, and usage of the word "Olympic". They have taken action against numerous groups seen to have violated this trademark, including the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based band The Hopefuls (formerly The Olympic Hopefuls), Awana Clubs International, a Christian youth ministry who used the term for its competitive games, and Wizards of the Coast, publisher at the time of the IOC's complaint of the card game Legend of the Five Rings and others. But a few companies have been successful in using the Olympic name, such as Olympic Paint, which even has a paintbrush in the form of a torch as its logo, and the former Greek airline Olympic Airlines. Certain other sporting organisations and events have been granted permission by the IOC to use the word "Olympics" in their name, such as Special Olympics, an international sporting event held every four years for people with physical or intellectual disabilities.

See also

Modern Olympics movement

  • The Olympic Flag: a flag representing the five inhabited continents of the world, united by Olympism.
  • The Olympic Hymn: played during the opening and closing ceremonies of Olympic Games and on certain other occasions
  • The Olympic Flame: a flame burning day and night for the duration of the Olympic Games.
  • The Olympic mascot: an animal native to the area or occasionally human figures representing the cultural heritage of the place where the Olympic Games are held.
  • The Olympic motto, in Latin: "Citius, Altius, Fortius"; which means, "Faster, Higher, Stronger".
  • The Olympic Oath: an oath to commit to competition in sport within the rules without doping. First taken at the 1920 Summer Olympics by the athletes, this was expanded to the judges at the 1972 Winter Olympics.
  • The Olympic Order: an award conferred by the International Olympic Committee
  • The Olympic emblem: the emblem of every edition of the Olympic Games, usually combining the Olympic Rings with some elements representing the host city or country and its culture.
  • The Olympic poster: the poster of every edition of the Olympic Games, usually combining the Olympic aim with some elements representing the host city or country and its culture.
  • The three Olympic pillars: sport, environment, culture.



  1. ^ Games of the VIII Olympiad - Paris 1924
  2. ^ The Olympic Summer Games
  3. ^ "This Great Symbol" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  4. ^ "Logos & Mascots". 2007-02-27. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  5. ^ "The Olympic symbols" (PDF). IOC. 2002. Retrieved 2007-03-18.  [Broken link]
  6. ^ "Decision adopted by the Executive Committee". Bulletin du Comité International Olympique ( Olympic Review ) (Lausanne: IOC) (25): 32. January 1951. 
  7. ^ "The Olympic Flag". Extract from: Textes choisis II, p.470. (written in 1931). Retrieved 2008-08-29. 
  8. ^ "Olympic Charter". The International Olympic Committee. 2007-07-07. Retrieved 2009-01-10. .
  9. ^ "Missing Flag Returns to Glory, Courtesy of a Prankster". N.Y. Times, September 12, 2000. 
  10. ^ "Vancouver 2010: The Olympic Flags and Emblem". Retrieved 2010-03-01. "At the Closing Ceremony of the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, the flag was passed on to the next Olympic Games city, Seoul, and then retired. [emphasis added]" 
  11. ^ "Vancouver 2010: The Olympic Flags and Emblem". Retrieved 2010-03-01. "Because it is so precious, and must be preserved for years to come, the Oslo flag is not used during the actual Closing Ceremony. Instead, a replica flag is traditionally used." 
  12. ^ "Vancouver 2010: The Olympic Flags and Emblem". Retrieved 2010-03-01. "The successor to the Antwerp Flag, the Seoul flag was presented to the IOC at the 1988 Olympic Games by the city of Seoul, South Korea." 
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b Droit, Jean (192?). "Paris 1924 - Jeux Olympiques". From Olympic Games Museum. French Olympic Committee. Retrieved 15 March 2010. 
  16. ^ Schaap, Jeremy (2007). Triumph: the untold story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 163-166. ISBN 0618688226, 9780618688227. 
  17. ^ [1] 1936 Olympics affiche

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