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[The Olympic flag]
image by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán
Flag adopted: 1914.

"... in 1913, the five rings appeared at the top of a letter written by Pierre de Coubertin. He drew the rings and coloured them in by hand. It was also Coubertin who had the idea for the Olympic flag. He presented the rings and flag in June 1914 in Paris at the Olympic Congress."

The Olympic Symbols ("pdf" document)
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, October 14, 2008


See:

See also:

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Description of the flag

According to the Olympic Charter the design and proportions of the Olympic flag are those of the flag presented by Pierre de Coubertin at the Paris Congress in 1914.
On a white field without borders, five rings in blue, yellow, black, green, and red interlaced from left to right forming a trapezium with the blue, black and red rings are at the top and the yellow and green rings at the bottom. The proportions of the original flag were 2 x 3m and the rings occupied an area of 0.6 x 2.2m.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. Among these are the Antwerp and Seoul flags, which have a fringe of the six colours around the white field.

Flagmaster 84 [fLm], Autumn 1996
Olympic Charter - International Olympic Committee, 12 December 1999


Ceremonial Olympic flag

[Ceremonial Olympic flag]
image by Zachary Harden and Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, July, 2005.

[Ceremonial Olympic flag photo]
From JSonline
Posted by Zachary Harden, August 6, 2004.
Click the image to enlarge


About the Ceremonial Flag

On 5th June at the 90th Session of the International Olympic Committee in Berlin, IOC President Samaranch presented Mr. Tae Woo Roh, President of the Seoul Olympic Organising Committee (SLOOC), with the Seoul Olympic Flag, which is to be flown by host cities as the new official standard of the Games.

The flag was one of two that the SLOOC had made at the request of the IOC to replace the Antwerp Flag, which has become worn with years of use and has now been retired to be placed in the Olympic Museum.

The other Seoul Flag, which was presented to Mr. Samaranch in Seoul last September 27th. just before the dedication of the new Olympic Stadium, is to be kept at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne.

The Dong-A Silk Co., one of Korea's leading producers of silk fabric, made the flag of 100 percent pure Korean raw silk in a three-ply, 21-denier material weighing 45 grams per inch. Three metres long and two metres high, the flag is seamless - one of the few improvements made over the Antwerp Flag, which was not of a single piece. The five-ring emblem, two metres by sixty centimetres, is centered on the flag ; the rings are made of the same fabric as the field, hand-dyed and sewn on with spun silk yarn. The fringe, made of 120-denier spun silk yarn braided by hand, was sewn to the border with 12-ply, 21-denier silk yarn.

All the needlework was done by the deft hands of women skilled in Korea's traditional methods.

Fast acid dyes were used and the coloured portions of the flag were treated with water repellent to render them resistant to running or fading.

The original Olympic flag, based on a design by the Baron Pierre de Coubertin himself, was made in the Au Bon Marché store near Coubertin's birthplace in Paris. It was first flown in 1914 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the creation of the International Olympic Committee but did not serve as a standard for the Games until 1920 in Antwerp, hence the name by which it came to be known. (No Games were held in 1916 because of the First World War).

This flag has been the official standard of every Olympiad since; and all other Olympic flags, including the new official standards from Seoul, have followed its design.

Upon receiving the new flag, Mr. Roh thanked the IOC forgiving Seoul the honour of making it and said that he hoped it would fly all around the world, contributing to the realisation of the ideals of the IOC and to peace and harmony for all mankind.

During a brief ceremony held in the SLOOC's auditorium, SLOOC President Mr. Tae-Woo Roh presented this new flag to the Mayor of Seoul, Mr. Bo-Yun Yum, on the 11th July in the presence of the members of the SLOOC, the Municipal Council and the Korean Olympic Committee.

The flag will be kept in the Mayor's office until the day of the Opening of the Games of the XXIV Olympiad in 1988.

Olympic Review 215, September 1985 (p. 551-2)
Posted by: Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, Oct. 7, 2008


Origin and Meaning of the Olympic flag

Pierre de Coubertin is said to have found the original Olympic symbol engraved on an altar-stone unearthed at Delphi. It has been used at least since Athens 1906 to symbolize the five Olympic continents.
When Pierre de Coubertin in 1913 designed a flag for the 1914 Paris Congress of the Olympic Movement, celebrating the movements twentieth anniversary, naturally he chose the Olympic symbol. For the colours he decided to use the colours of the flags of all countries that were part of the Olympic Movement, six colours in all: White for the cloth and Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Black for the rings. The congress was so taken with this design that it adopted it as the flag for the Olympic Movement.
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. Though colourful explanations about the symbolism of the coloured rings exist, the only connection between the rings and the continents is that the number five refers to the number of continents. Any other relation must be a post-facto interpretation.

Herman De Wael, 15 April 1999
Flagmaster 84 [fLm], Autumn 1996
Pascal Vagnat, 11 December 1998


The text above contains a passage that needs to be corrected. It is written that "Pierre de Coubertin is said to have found the original Olympic symbol engraved on an altar-stone unearthed at Delphi." Apparently a number of publications on the Olympic games and movement contain similar claims, sometimes accompanied by photographs of the "evidence", a stone with the five rings carved into it.

An article by Robert Knight Barney called 'This Great Symbol: The Tricks of History' and published in Olympic Review (No. 301, 1992 pp. 627-631, 641), sets the record straight concerning the supposed antique origins of the famous Olympic rings. Barney points out that the stones in question, which may still be seen at Delphi, were in fact manufactured for a ceremony which formed part of the torch relay from Greece to Germany for the 1936 games. The stones were since left at various locations at Delphi, causing later visitors to mistake the stones with the rings for genuine antique artefacts.

In the same article Barney also presents new views on the origins of the Olympic emblem. Barney explains that the likely inspiration for the interlocked rings lies in the symbol of the French sports federation USFSA - Union des sociétés françaises des sports athlétiques. The USFSA used an emblem consisting of two interlocking rings, reflecting that the USFSA was born through the merger of two previously independent associations. de Coubertain was president of the USFSA. Barney states that the symbol with the two rings is known to have been used on uniforms "at least as early as 1893." When the time came to make an emblem for the Olympic movement, the 20th anniversary of the Olympic movement in 1914, the symbol of the USFSA served as model: "It seems quite obvious, therefore, that Coubertin's affiliation with the USFSA led him to think in terms of interlocked rings or circles when he applied his mind towards conceiving a logo for his commemorative conference of 1914, indeed, a ring logo that would symbolize his Olympic Movement's success up to that point in time, just as the interlocking of two rings had signified the successful marriage of two distinct societies into one, the USFSA. Circles, after all, connote wholeness (as we are told by the psychologist Karl Jung), the interlocking of them, continuity." (p. 629). In Barney's judgment the five rings of the Olympic emblem "connoted the successful accomplishment of history's first five Modern Olympic Games, and that the ring colours exemplify hues represented in the flags of each of the countries participating in the Games of the Olympiads I, II, III, IV, and V." (p. 631).

Jan Oskar Engene, 13 January 2002.


The writer following article was apparently quite convinced that the flag was first shown in Paris, and thus neglected to check the congress date. Fortunately, I already quoted the month from the website as "June 1914", which tells us the flag was first shown in Egypt, and only then in Paris.

This flag was designed by Pierre de Coubertin in 1913, and was made in the "Bon Marché" store, adjoining the Rue Oudinot, birthplace of the Baron.

This first flag is 3 meters long, and 2 meters wide: the emblem placed in the center is 2,06 m. by 60 cm. From now on the flags which will fly over the stadia will be of this format, although some will possibly have fringes and be made of a more sumptuous material than the simple cotton used for the original. (...)

The Olympic flag made its first official appearance in 1914 in Paris on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Modern Olympic Games.

It was next flown on 5th April 1914 in Alexandria during the Pan-Egyptian Games and then in the hall of honour at the San Francisco Exhibition on 18th March 1915. (...)

The flag was not hoisted over an Olympic stadium until 1920 at the Antwerp Games. On this occasion the motto CITIUS, ALTIUS, FORTIUS had been added which, although attributed to Pierre de Coubertin, was in fact composed by one of his friends, the Reverend Father Didon."

The Olympic Flag, Newsletter of the IOC 2, November 1967 (p. 15-16)
Posted by: Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, Oct. 14, 2008.


These five rings represent the five parts of the world now won over to Olympism and ready to accept its fertile rivalries. Also (white background included) the six colours thus combined represent all those of all nations without exception. The blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece, the French, British, American, Belgian, Italian, Hungarian colours, the yellow and red of Spain are alongside the new ones of Brazil and Australia and next to ancient Japan and young China. This is a truly international emblem!'

As to the origins of the design, Coubertin 'is said to have come across the design of five interlocked rings on an altar unearthed at Delphi'.

Lord Killanin and John Rodda, The Olympic Games, quoted in
100 Years of the Olympic Games: Flag Challenges of the XXVI Olympiad, Flagmaster 84 [fLm], Autumn 1996.

The article also mentions an alternative story about the manufacture of the first flag, which was based on an article by Lucien Philippe in Emblemes et Pavillons 37 (August 1993). Philippe states that the first flag was actually made in the workshops of Maurice Charnier, the founder of the flag manufacturer Festa, at 106 rue Vieille du Temple, in Paris. Crampton tries to reconcile the two accounts by suggesting that Bon Marche could have referred Coubertin to Charnier, but I think this is speculation.

Lord Killanin and John Rodda, The Olympic Games, quoted in
100 Years of the Olympic Games: Flag Challenges of the XXVI Olympiad, Flagmaster 84 [fLm], Autumn 1996
Ian Sumner, Oct. 14, 2008


There's a very thorough article on the origins of the symbol, and the influences that may have made themselves felt on Coubertin, by Karl Lennartz, called 'The story of the rings', from the Journal of Olympic History vol 10 (2001-2) pp29ff, just here.

The author makes the point that the use of interlaced rings to symbolise unity was hardly a new thing, even in Coubertin's day. Coubertin was also high up in the Union des Societes Francaises de Sports Athletiques, which used two interlinked rings as its symbol, and some teams (there's a photo of the US rugby team in 1900, for example) used that symbol on their kit for a time.

The quotation used by William Crampton originally came from an article by Coubertin in the Revue Olympique in 1913.

Ian Sumner, Oct. 14, 2008


The emblem selected to illustrate and represent the 1914 world congress which was to place the final seal on the restoration of the Olympics began to appear on various preliminary documents: five rings linked at regular intervals, their various colours - blue, yellow, black, green and red - standing out against the white of the paper. These five rings represent the five parts of the world now won over to Olympism, ready to accept its fruitful rivalries. In addition, the six colours combined in this way reproduce the colours of every country without exception. The blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece, the tricolor flags of France, England, the United States, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Hungary, and the yellow and red of Spain are included, as are the innovative flags of Brazil and Australia, and those of ancient Japan and modern China. This, truly, is an international emblem. It was made to be turned into a flag, and the look of the flag would be perfect. It is a light, appealing flag, a delight to see fluttering in the wind. Its meaning is largely symbolic. Its success is assured, to the point that after the Congress it can continue to be raised on solemn Olympic occasions. However this may turn out, the celebrations of 1914 now have the eurythmic messengers they needed to announce them. The great poster; the first copies of which have been given to the national Olympic Committees and which continues to be available to them, met with immediate general admiration. The reduction to post card format is equally successful for that medium. The five rings and their various applications will also be deeply appreciated. ..."

In this translation De Coubertin says: "It is a light, appealing flag, a delight to see fluttering in the wind. Its meaning is largely symbolic." This could indicate that the flag already existed. The French, however, is: "Un pareil drapeau est léger, chatoyant, spirituel à voir flotter; il a un sens largement symbolique." Worded like that, I think it speaks of "Such a flag".

De Coubertin indeed presents the emblem as the symbol of the Olympic Congress, though he leaves the door open to using it more generally.

The flag being lent to Angelo B. Olanaki to be flown at the opening of the Chatsby Stadium in Alexandria, Egypt on 5 April 1914 is consistent with this purpose: Had it been the Olympic flag to be, then flying it before it was adopted would seem rather curious. But as the flag of the Olympic Congress, to be held that year, flying the flag at the opening of the first Panegyptian Games would have been quite fitting.

The congress was held 15 - 23 June 1914 in Paris.

The next Olympic Review speaks very enthusiastically about the whole event, describes the festivities, and promises to publish the details of the meetings in the coming issues. It then adds the sombre note that, just after the congress, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife have been murdered.

This small note eventually evolved into a European tribal war killing more than 20 million people. I'm not sure whether, as the war broke out, those next OR-s were actually published, or even written. So far I've not seen any reference to their content, and as a result I don't know how the flag was actually adopted.

The emblem and the flag of 1914
Located by: Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, Oct. 14, 2008.


Legend of Delphi

The story about the carving the symbol on a stone at Delphi in 1936 appears in an article by Robert K. Barney, 'This great symbol'., in Olympic Revue 301 (November 1992).
Ian Sumner, Oct. 14, 2008


The host's and Greek flag at Olympic ceremonies

At the end of each games, the flag of Greece is raised first, no matter if it is summer or winter, to show the location of the first modern games. The first modern games was held in 1896 at Athens, Greece. The second flag flown is that of the host country of the games. The last flag is the host country of the next games of that same season.
The flags at Sydney were at this order: Greece, Australia, Greece. When the Greek anthem was sung, both Greek flags were raised at the same time in order not to offend the Aussies, and the Aussie anthem came last.
This time at Salt Lake City, it will be Greece, United States, and Italy. Italy will be hosting the games in 2006 in the city of Turin.
Zachary Harden, 26 January 2002.


Illegal Olympic flag?

[The Olympic flag as hoisted in some McDonald's locations]
image by Mark Sensen and Thorsten, October 2, 2004.

Some McDonald's locations in the U.S. fly an Olympic flag with the words "OFFICIAL RESTAURANT". The rings in these flags extend almost all the way to the edges, according the image above.
Thorsten, October 2, 2004.


The flag was also used at McDonald's Canada locations during the games. I never got a good enough look to read the wording, it may have been the same as the U.S., or perhaps dans tous les deux langues officielles in the two official languages, e.g. French and English. It looked like there was more writing than just "OFFICIAL RESTAURANT".
Dean McGee, October 3, 2004.


I believe that the rule is valid for all cases and probably the restaurants are in breach of the agreement with the IOC - but then again, it may well be that IOC allowed the issue even against its regulation, for certain amount of financial support.

See the rule 7, 8, 9, and 12 of the Olympic Charter...

There is a number of other interesting reference to the flag and symbols (and flag related ceremonies etc.) in the Charter.

Click here to read the full text of the Olympic Charter.
This is a 350 KB large-PDF file.

Željko Heimer, October 3, 2004.