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The Five Rings of the Olympics

The five rings of the Olympics symbolize the five regions of the world that participate in the games:

  • The Americas
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Europe
  • Oceania

[NOTE: North and South America are counted as a single region.]

Each of the rings is a different color:

  • Black
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Red
  • Yellow

The five colors of the rings plus the white background represented the flags of each of the participating nations in the first five Olympic Games, which were all that had taken place at the time the Olympic flag was introduced in 1914 by the founder of the modern games, Pierre de Coubertin.  As Coubertin wrote,

...De plus les six couleurs ainsi combinées reproduisent celles de toutes les nations sans exception. Le bleu et jaune de Suéde, le bleu et blanc de Gréce, les tricolores français, anglais, américain, allemand, belge, italien, hongrois, le jaune et rouge d’Espagne voisinent avec les innovations brésilienne ou australienne, avec le vieux Japon et la jeuneChine. Voilá vraiment un embléme international.  [Revue Olympique, August 1913. English translation: “Furthermore, the six colours (including the flag’s white background) thus combined reproduce the colours of all the nations, with no exception. The blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece, the tricolours of France, England and America, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, the yellow and red of Spain next to the novelties of Brazil or Australia, with old Japan and new China. Here is truly an international symbol.”  Translated by Robert Knight Barney in his "This Great Symbol: Tricks of History" in Olympic Review No. 301, Nov. 1992 ]

How It's Used

“There seemed no end to the line of corporations and cities clamoring to hitch themselves to the Olympics’ five interlocking rings, the logo stamped on all those dreams and heroes.”

—A. Craig Copetas, Roger Thurow, and Stefan Fatsis, “Tarnished Rings? For the Olympics, Worrisome Clouds Over Its Lofty Image: Bribery Scandal, Drug Issues May Serve to Undermine a ‘Label’ Worth Billions: Those Literal Smoking Guns,” The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 1998, p. A1.

"The second reason [for the Sydney Olympics success] was something beyond government control: the average citizen's genuine love and knowledge of sport and the Olympic Games. Thursday morning was typical steady rain falling and close to 100,000 paying customers jammed into the stadium watching events that would normally struggle to attract much more than a kids' soccer crowd. For months ticket sales had been stagnant, but when the Games were almost here Australians queued for hours to buy tickets to anything as long as it had the five rings on it.”

—Matthew Moore, “Olympics: What Went Right,” The Sydney Morning Herald, September 30, 2000.

“While the lighting of the Olympic flame in Vancouver may be years away, jockeying by Canadian companies to hang their names alongside the glowing torch and the patented five interlocking rings has already begun. ‘There is certainly a tremendous interest that we are seeing out there with companies that want to be a part of this opportunity because these opportunities don't come around in your home country that often,’ Sam Corea, a spokesman for the 2010 organizing committee, said in an interview.”

—Richard Bloom, “Corporate Canada keen to be involved,” The Globe and Mail, March 31, 2004.

“The practices Monday were a small preview. Fans filled nearly half the arena, in midafternoon on a workday, and had flags and horns and cheered every jump. 'It's the mind that has to stay so calm and so focused,' Wagner said. 'Not to see those five rings on the wall and say, “Oh my God, it's the Olympics.” You've got to keep the parameters really tight and focus on the job that has to be done. It's not so easy.' The reward, however, can be a gold medal.”

—Lynn Zinser, “Pressure, Not the Jumps, Is What's Hard to Handle,” The New York Times, February 21, 2006.

“The problem is that the DCMS [Department for Culture, Media and Sport] have nothing of significant value to sell to potential sponsors. The only Olympic property of any tangible worth to sponsors is the five rings and the right to use the word ‘Olympic', and as the IOC's regulations make explicit, the Government has no call on them. According to the host city contract signed by London in 2005, all rights to the Olympic rings, the flag, motto, emblem and anthem and expressions such as Olympic, Olympiad, Olympic Games and their abbreviations, reside with the London organising committee (Locog). Given that Locog were and remain busy exploiting those rights to raise private finance to pay for the running of the Games—they have so far banked pounds 450 million—there was never any chance of the Government borrowing a ring or two to help make up the shortfall.”

—Paul Kelso, “Government to help fill 2012 funding gap but emerging sports will suffer,” The Daily Telegraph (UK), December 3, 2008.


Related on eAlmanac
The Five Rings of the Pentagon

Beyond eAlmanac
Wikipedia article on the Olympic Rings
International Olympic Committee official Web site
"This Great Symbol: Tricks of History" by Robert Knight Barney in Olympic Review No. 301, Nov. 1992

Product Links
"Inside the Olympics: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Politics, the Scandals and the Glory of the Games" by Richard W. Pound
"This Great Symbol: Pierre de Coubertin and the Origins of the Modern Games" by John MacAloon

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