Although the logo of the Olympics has been a part of our cultural memory since its re-birth in 1912, the true meaning of the intertwined rings remains lost on many. As the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics approaches, the iconic logo graces commercials and cereal boxes with increasing frequency. The rings may appear as just an eye-catching logo used purely for branding purposes, but the history of the design reveals a much greater symbolism.
The conception of the rings can be traced back to Pierre de Coubertin, a French aristocrat and intellectual who hoped to revive the ancient Olympic Games as an international contest promoting peace. A co-founder of the modern Olympic Games, Coubertin designed and implemented the five interlocking rings as the official logo for the 1912 Stockholm Games, the first Olympic Games featuring athletes from all five inhabited “continents” of the world.
For Coubertin, the logo had immense symbolism as it related to the motto and values of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The design of the colored and intertwined rings of equal dimensions represented the five inhabited continents, interlaced to exemplify the universality of “Olympism” and the meeting of the athletes of the world. Coubertin hoped that the logo would exemplify one of the core values of the IOC: respect, as the Olympics was designated as a place for all nations to be brought together without discrimination.
There is a common misconception that each color corresponds to a certain continent. Because the six colors – blue, yellow, black, green, red, and white – combine to represent the colors of every nation without any exceptions, this myth actively works against de Coubertin’s vision for an all-inclusive symbol of unity. The true meaning of the interlocking six colors is emblematic of Olympic unity where every nation is linked through one empowering symbol. The circles connote wholeness and the interlocking of such wholeness conveys continuity, reinforcing the idea that the Olympics are international and welcoming to all countries of the world to join.
After many decades, the logo of the Olympics has become a distinctive and effective branding tool, but the history reveals so much more than that. Highly symbolic of unity and athleticism, the rings are not only emblematic of de Coubertin’s vision but possess an incredible longevity – the logo has not been changed since its conception in 1912! The staying power of this image speaks volumes about the strength of such a recognizable logo, which has become even more empowering with its symbolic history of respect and unity for all.