No event better embodies the spirit of international cooperation than the Olympic Games. Every four years, thousands of athletes from across the globe come together to compete on the world’s stage. Indeed what was said at the 1908 London Olympics is still true today, “The most important thing is not to win but to take part!”
The enduring symbol of international cooperation is the Olympic Rings. These five rings, blue, yellow, black, green and red represent the parts of the world competing in the games – the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. While many think that each color represents a continent, this isn’t the case. The six colors, each ring and the white background, represented at least one of the colors present in the flag of each county that participated in the Games of the first five Olympiads.
There is also some confusion about how the rings symbol came about. A common myth is that they originated from carved stones found at Delphi in Greece, while in reality the opposite is true. The 1936 Olympic Games saw the first Torch Relay and part of the route brought the Olympic Torch to Delphi where organizers had erected a 3 foot high block of stone with the five interlocking rings chiseled on each side. After ceremonies during the Torch Relay, the stone was left in place and “discovered” twenty years later by two British authors who published a book with their findings,
"In the stadium at Delphi, there is a stone altar on which is carved five rings symbolic of the quinquennial timing for the celebrated games. The design of the five circles on the Delphi altar is today the symbol of the Olympic Games. The circles form a link between ancient and modern Olympics…and are considered by 3 experts to be 3,000 years old."
The true origin of the Olympic Rings comes from much more recent history. The creator of the rings was Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who debuted the Olympic Flag design in 1914 at the IOC’s 20th anniversary celebration of the Modern Olympic Movement. The interlocking rings were mostly likely inspired by the USFSA, or the French sport-governing body. The USFSA was born out of a merger between two groups and its logo, symbolizing the union of the two organizations, featured two interlocking rings. This logo debuted in 1896 and is widely believed to have inspired Coubertin’s classic flag design.
No matter its origin, the Olympic Rings have stood the test of time. The interlocking rings represent international cooperation and continue to serve as a powerful symbol around the world.