Why Were the Five Colors of the Olympic Rings Chosen?


The Olympic ring emblem was designed by Pierre de Coubertin, a French aristocrat, in 1913. The colors of the rings—blue, yellow, black, green and red—were selected because they appeared on the flags of each nation at the time of the emblem’s design.

What the Rings Symbolize The five rings themselves represent the five continents from which athletes come to participate in the games, loosely defined by Coubertin as Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. Both the rings and their colors represent the spirit of international unity that the Games promote. The emblem is seen as a symbol of the meeting of athletes from around the world, as well as of the larger ideals of wholeness and continuity.

History of the Rings in 1894 Coubertin created a congress in Paris in order to propose that the ancient Olympic Games be reestablished. After the agreement of the congress, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was established with the goal of planning the 1896 Athens Games.

The Olympic ring emblem first appeared on a letter Coubertin mailed to a friend following the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games, the first Games to feature athletes from the five areas of the world that the rings symbolize. Coubertin hand drew the emblem and colored the individual rings with the five colors seen today. The design stuck, and Coubertin decided to use it as the official emblem of the 20th anniversary of the IOC two years later in 1914. The rings became the official symbol of the Olympic Games shortly after.

First Appearance at the Games The rings were originally scheduled to make their debut at the 1916 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. Berlin had been chosen as the host city for the 1916 Olympic Games in 1912, at the 14th session of the IOC. However, these games were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I.

The Olympic rings made their first appearance at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium. They appeared throughout the games, most notably on the Olympic flag. The 1920 Games also marked the first time that the Olympic Oath was taken by athletes, coaches, and judges prior to the events.

Modifications and Official Versions Since their first appearance in 1914, the Olympic rings have been featured at every subsequent Olympic Games. In 1957 the IOC approved an official design for the rings, in which they intersected slightly differently than the original. This design was altered in 2010, when the rings’ interlocking pattern returned to Coubertin’s original.

Today, there are seven approved versions of the Olympic rings. The most widely used version adheres closely to the original, in which the interlocked rings appear on a white background in the five colors—blue, yellow, black, green and red. The rings can also appear in monochrome, with all of the rings in one of the six official Olympic colors on a white background. If the rings are colored white, the background should be colored black.