We explain the Olympic rings, their meaning, and how they originated. In addition, we tell you the myth of the Olympic stone.
What are the Olympic rings?
The Olympic rings are the main symbol of the International Olympic Games, the most important international sporting event in the contemporary world. It consists of five circles of different colours: blue, yellow, black, red and green, arranged in that order and each intertwined with the next, all arranged on a white background.
These rings are on the Olympic flag and, together with the Olympic flame and the Olympic creed, constitute the universal symbols of the Olympics: an event in which every four years, athletes from all over the world meet to compete in different disciplines and formats.
The five colours of the Olympic rings represent the colours common to all the world flags; that is, any existing flag contains one of these colours. In this way, the circles represent unity, brotherhood and communion among nations, which are essential Olympic values.
The Olympic rings appear on Olympic medals, posters and advertisements, souvenirs, philately and everything related to this great sporting event.
Origin and history of the Olympic rings
The symbol of the Olympic rings was created at the beginning of the 20th century by Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937), one of the founders of the Olympic movement, inspired by the emblem of the Union of French Athletic Sports Societies (Union des sociétés françaises de sports athlétiques) and in classic representations of marriage, in which two intertwined rings are shown.
De Coubertin himself explained in an interview in 1913 that the selection of colours came from the flags of the participating nations at that time (Germany, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Spain, the United States, France, Greece, Hungary, England, Japan, Italy, Sweden), but which had finally formed “a truly international emblem”, since all the flags of the world have at least one of these colours.
The myth of the “Olympic stone.”
There is also a myth that supposes the symbol’s origin in a stone discovered in the archaeological sites of Delphi, Greece, where the Pythian Games were held in honour of Apollo in ancient times.
This version is false because, at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Carl Diem, president of the organizing committee, ordered the manufacture of a stone with this Olympic symbol printed on all four sides and its installation in Greece. From there, three runners with the Olympic torch of that year set out for the German capital in a gesture that linked the ancient and modern Olympic tradition.
But the organizers forgot to remove the stone at the end of the Olympics, and in the late 1950s, two British writers took it for granted, claiming in a book on the history of the modern Olympics that the emblem had been created in ancient times. This mistake is known as “Carl Diem’s stone”.
Other symbols of the International Olympic Games
In addition to the Olympic rings, the Olympics have two critical symbols:
The Olympic flag. It consists of a white box with a 2:3 ratio, on which the five Olympic rings appear. It is hoisted at all the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games from 1920 to the present.
The Olympic torch. It consists of torch-lit at the beginning of the Olympic Games, in a tradition inherited from Greek Antiquity. With it, the theft of fire from the gods by Prometheus, in Greek mythology, and the delivery of it to humanity are commemorated. It has been used in every edition of the Olympics since 1928.