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[The Olympic flag]
by Mark Sensen
Flag adopted: 1914.

The Olympic flag was designed in 1913 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin as a flag for the Olympic Congress in Paris 1914 celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Olympic Movement. At the congress the flag was adopted as the flag for the Olympic Movement.
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See also:

Other site:

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.
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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.
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Where the Olympic flag can be seen

The IOC guards the dignity of the Olympic symbol and therefore limits the hoisting of Olympic flags to specific situations.

Now that the celebration of the 19th Olympic Winter Games is over, it's asif the Olympic Movement started wearing a dull winter fur, hardly showing any colour at all. But during Salt Lake 2002 there Olympic flags where flying everywhere.

  • At the Opening Ceremony a large Olympic Flag was carried into the stadium and hoisted in a prominent position, where it remained for the duration of the Games.
  • Several Olympic flags, and flags of each participating country, were flown at each Olympic event and over the Olympic Village.
  • A large number of Olympic flags was flown throughout Salt Lake City.
  • At the Closing Ceremony the Oslo flag was returned to the president of the IOC, who passed it on to the Burgomaster of Turin, host city of the 20th Olympic Winter Games, in 2006.
  • Then, at the end of the Closing Ceremony, the Olympic flag flying over the Games was slowly lowered, and then slowly carried out of the stadium.

After Salt Lake 2002, most of the Olympic Flags have beeen taken down again, but there are a few places where the Olympic flag can be found throughout the year:

  • The original Antwerp flag, presented by the city of Antwerp to the IOC in 1920, finally found its resting place in Lausanne in 1988, after travelling from Olympic city to Olympic city for 68 years.
  • In the city hall of Athens, the Seoul flag, presented to the IOC by the City of Seoul in 1988, awaits the opening of the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad: Athens 2004.
  • In the city hall of Turin, the Oslo flag, presented by the City of Oslo to the IOC in 1952, awaits the opening of the 20th Olympic Winter Games: Turin 2006.
  • An Olympic flag is hoisted each day at the headquarters of the IOC in Lausanne.
  • Every eight years an Olympic congress is organized. No doubt, the Olympic flag will be flown at the site during the congress.
  • The World Championships in any Olympic sport can request permission to fly the Olympic flag during the event.

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Flag Stories about the Olympic Games:

Because of the large number of flags that athletes participate under at the Olympic Games, there are quite a few stories to tell about them. This is only a short selection:

People from some far away continent (London 1908, Stockholm 1912)

[Flag for the Australasian Olympic team.] by Juan Manuel Gabino, 22 September 2000

During the early days of the Olympic Movement, Australia and New Zealand were represented jointly by one IOC member for "Australasia". They even competed as a joint Australasian team, during the Olympic Games of 1908 and 1912, using a special Australasian flag.

Unfortunately, it's not clear whether this was a team flag only, or whether it was also used by the organizations of the Games to represent Australasia. A photograph taken at London 1908 shows that, at least during the Parade of Flags, Australia was represented by its own flag. {1, 3, and 9}

A king is merely a mortal? (London 1908)

The Parade of Flags was introduced at the IVth Olympic Games, London 1908, and King Edward VII himself was the Head of State to whom all flags were dipped in salute as the athletes marched in. That is, all flags except the flag of the USA. To the fury of King Edward, the USA shot-putter Ralph Rose refused to pay him respect by dipping the Stars & Stripes.

One reason given for this is that the flag of the United States is lowered for no mortal man. And after all, a king is merely a mortal! And that to this day, the Stars & Stripes is the only flag that is not dipped when the Head of State is saluted during the Parade of Flags. However, poetic as this explanation may be, it's not clear whether such a rule for the USA flag existed in 1908. The rule is part of the first USA Flag Code, but that Flag Code wasn't drawn up until 1923. On the other hand, in the early 20th century, veterans of the Union Army in the American Civil War waged a campaign against what they considered indignities to the Stars & Stripes, and the rule against dipping the American flag may have originated from that campaign.

Another possible explanation lies in the fact that the London organization, when decorating the stadium, forgot to display the flags of Sweden and the United States. The Swedish team in turn did not take part in the Parade of Flags; the USA team did take part in the parade, but they got even and made sure their flag was clearly visible this time: They refused to dip it in salute to the king.

The truth, as happens so often, may be a combination of both. However, quite surprisingly, on a photograph taken in London when the parade of flags had finished, all teams can be seen greeting the royal family with their flags. Even though the photograph is in black & white the dipped American flag can be made out quite clearly. Of course, this does not tell us what happened in the course of the parade, but it does show that during London 1908 there was at least one occasion where the flag bearer did indeed dip the Stars & Stripes.
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The Austr-al-ian Flag Goof (?? 19??)

During one of the Games of the early 1900's, perhaps the first where Australia participated as an independent "entity", their athletes weren't expected to do too well, and the Local Olympic Committee didn't think to procure Australia's flag (which was rather new at the time.) Since this was apparently before the Parade of Flags was introduced, which would have required each country's flag at the outset, when one of the athletes from Down Under actually did do well enough to qualify for a medal, the LOC had a problem. In order to have a flag for each of the three medal winners, they figured that "Austria" sounded a lot like "Australia", so they raised the red/white/red flag.

If this incident really did occur, the British Union Flag would probably have been a better alternative than the Austrian flag. But exactly at which Olympic Games this took place is a bit of a mystery:
This could only have occurred after 1901, when Australia gained independence, and before 1908, when at the London Games the Parade of Flags was introduced; in other words: St. Louis 1904, and the Intermediate Games Athens 1906. Since Australia's only participant in the St. Louis Games did not win a medal, this suggests it must have happened at Athens 1906.
However, Olympic Games prior to London 1908 awarded only two medals per event and on top of that, award ceremonies where flags are raised for the medal winners were first introduced in Los Angeles 1932!
Which Games then, may have been the stage for this little comedy?


1 International Olympic Committee Website, July 2000
2 Herman De Wael, 15 April 1999
3 Flagmaster 84 [flm], Autumn 1996
4 Pascal Vagnat, 11 December 1998
5 Olympic Charter - International Olympic Committee, 12 December 1999
6 Nick Artimovich, 22 February 1996
7 Olympic Games -, 2000
8 Joseph McMillan, 30 August 2000
9 De Olympiske Lege gennem 100 år 1896 - 1996, 1996