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What Do the Olympic Rings Mean?

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In 1894, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin—a French aristocrat and intellectual who had previously attempted to incorporate more physical education in schools—convened a congress in Paris with the goal of reviving the ancient Olympic Games (an idea Coubertin first introduced at a USFSA meeting in 1889). The congress agreed on proposals for a modern Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee was soon formalized and given the task of planning the 1896 Athens Games.

After the 1912 Stockholm Games—the first Games featuring athletes from all five inhabited parts of the world—a design of five interlocked rings, drawn and colored by hand, appeared at the top of a letter Coubertin sent to a colleague. Coubertin used his ring design as the emblem of the IOC's 20th anniversary celebration in 1914. A year later, it became the official Olympic symbol.

The rings were to be used on flags and signage at the 1916 Games, but those games were canceled because of the ongoing World War. The rings made a belated debut at the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium.

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Coubertin explained his design in 1931:

"A white background, with five interlaced rings in the centre: blue, yellow, black, green and red ... is symbolic; it represents the five inhabited continents of the world, united by Olympism, while the six colors are those that appear on all the national flags of the world at the present time."

Coubertin used a loose interpretation of "continent" that included Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. He never said nor wrote that any specific ring represents a specific continent.

Because the rings were originally designed as a logo for the IOC's 20th anniversary and only later became a symbol of the Olympics, it's also probable, according to historian David Young, that Coubertin originally thought of the rings as symbols of the five Games already successfully staged.

ANCIENT RINGS? 

Popular myth (and an academic article) has it that the rings were inspired by a similar, ancient design found on a stone at Delphi, Greece. This "ancient" design, however, is really just a modern prop.

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For the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, Carl Diem, president of the organizing committee, wanted to relay the Olympic Flame from its lighting point in Olympia to the Olympic stadium in Berlin. Diem, it seems, had a flair for theatrics, and included in the relay a stop at Delphi's ancient stadium for a faux-ancient Greek torchbearers' ceremony complete with a faux-ancient, 3-foot-tall stone altar with the modern ring design chiseled into its sides.

After the ceremony, the torch runners went on their way, but no one ever removed the stone from the stadium. Two decades later, British researchers visiting Delphi noticed the ring design on the stone. They concluded that the stone was an ancient altar, and thought the ring design had been used in ancient Greece and now formed "a link between ancient and modern Olympics."

The real story behind the altar was later revealed, and "Carl Diem's Stone" was moved from the stadium and placed near the ticketed entrance to the historic site.

The inspiration for Coubertin's design seems to be a little more modern. Four years before he convened his Olympic congress, he had become president of the French sports-governing body, the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA). The Union was formed from the merging of two smaller sporting bodies, and to symbolize this, a logo of two interlocking rings—one red and one blue, on a white background—was created and displayed on the uniforms of USFSA athletes.

"It seems quite obvious," says historian Robert Barney in a 1992 Olympic Revue article, "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 ... indeed, a ring-logo that would symbolize his Olympic Movement's success up to that point in time.... Circles, after all, connote wholeness, the interlocking of them, continuity."

LORD OF THE RINGS

The IOC takes their rings very seriously, and the symbol is subject to very strict usage rules and graphic standards, including:

The area covered by the Olympic symbol (the rings) contained in an Olympic emblem (e.g. the 2008 Games emblem) can't exceed one-third of the total area of the emblem.
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The Olympic symbol contained in an Olympic emblem has to appear in its entirety (no skimping on rings!) and can't be altered in any way.
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The rings can be reproduced in a solid version (for single color reproduction in blue, yellow, black, green, red, white, gray, gold, silver, or bronze) or an interlocking version (interlaced from left to right; and reproduced in any of the aforementioned colors or full color, in which case the blue, black and red rings are on top and the yellow and green are on the bottom).
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For reproduction on dark backgrounds, the rings must be a monochromatic yellow, white, gray, gold, silver, or bronze; full color on a dark background is not allowed.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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KXIV
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Redesigned Adidas Sneakers Channel Beijing’s Olympic Stadium
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KXIV

Beijing National Stadium has stood empty since the 2008 Olympics, but that hasn’t stopped the building from becoming an architectural icon. Designer KXIV (Nathan Kiatkulpiboone) found inspiration in the tangled "Bird’s Nest" structure when re-imagining Adidas’s Ultraboost running shoe. As designboom reports, he used 3D-printing technology to achieve the lattice design.

KXIV comes from a background in architecture. When he isn’t dreaming up shopping centers or city towers, he’s applying the principles he uses as an architect to sneaker design. In 2014, he unveiled a pair of Nike Jordan X shoes that borrowed elements from Thailand’s White Temple and Black House. He's also created a line of dress shoes inspired by modern architecture for the footwear brand SewRaw.

His latest project evokes the Bird’s Nest woven exterior. The Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron designed the stadium for the 2008 Olympics, and today it’s remembered as one of the most distinctive structures ever built for the games.

To recreate the look on an Adidas sneaker, KXIV used polyurethane webbing fused to a lycra base. The upper layer of bands were 3D-printed in a way that holds the shoes together. The sneakers are just a prototype, so like the stadium they’re based on, the striking form will remain unused for the foreseeable future.

Shoes inspired by Beijing National Stadium.
KXIV
KXIV

Shoes inspired by Beijing National Stadium.
KXIV

[h/t designboom]

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Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for The Buoniconti Fund
5 Fast Facts About Nancy Kerrigan
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Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for The Buoniconti Fund

Google Nancy Kerrigan’s name and the first batch of results will mainly be articles about the brutal knee injury she sustained, courtesy of an assailant hired by fellow skater Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, right before the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Yet Kerrigan is much more than a victim of that attack, even though Hollywood keeps making documentaries and feature films about the incident. Despite the injury, Kerrigan won a silver medal at Lillehammer (after previously winning a bronze at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France).

Currently, Kerrigan and dance partner Artem Chigvintsev are competing on the new season of Dancing with the Stars; as of this writing, the couple is still in it. Here are five things to know about the wannabe Mirror Ball trophy winner.

1. HER MOTHER IS LEGALLY BLIND.

In 1972, Nancy’s mom, Brenda, lost complete sight in her left eye—and most of the sight in her right eye—and became legally blind because of a rare virus. When Nancy’s parents attended the Albertville Olympics, they had to sit underneath the stands and watch the performance on a TV. “It’s made it possible for me to see 100 percent more than I would in the stands, but not the way you do,” Brenda told The New York Times in 1992. “I never can see her face.” Kerrigan set up a charity, The Nancy Kerrigan Foundation, to raise money for the vision impaired.

2. SHE MADE HISTORY AT THE 1991 WORLD FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS.

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During the 1991 World Figure Skating Championships held in Munich 10 months before the 1992 Olympic Games, Kristi Yamaguchi, Harding, and Kerrigan all won medals; it was the first time the same country had swept the women’s medal stand. (American men did this in 1956.) Yamaguchi won gold at Albertville, Kerrigan won bronze, and Harding finished fourth.

Like Kerrigan, Yamaguchi also competed on DWTS; she danced with Mark Ballas during season six—and won. Wishing her former competitor Kerrigan luck, Yamaguchi tweeted “break a leg” to Kerrigan (which, in hindsight, might not have been the best way of rooting Kerrigan on).

3. SHE WROTE A BOOK ON FIGURE SKATING.

In 2002, Kerrigan published a book on how to figure skate. In Artistry on Ice: Figure Skating Skills & Style, she writes about advanced techniques, competition, choreography, and costumes (she competed in designer costumes created by Vera Wang).

4. SHE’S CURRENTLY PRODUCING A DOCUMENTARY.

Kerrigan recently told People about how she developed an eating disorder after the traumatic events at the 1994 Olympics. All the media scrutiny caused her to feel like “everything else was really out of control at the time,” she said. “I would avoid food because it was something I could do. I felt like I could control that and nothing else.” She wasn’t anorexic, but she did stop eating for a period.

With encouragement from her manager and family, she slowly started eating more. Kerrigan is producing a documentary on eating disorders called Why Don’t You Lose 5 More Pounds, due out next year. The doc will feature interviews with other women who have suffered through extreme eating issues.

5. A BIG-SCREEN VERSION OF THE TONYA HARDING INCIDENT IS COMING TO A THEATER NEAR YOU.

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images

I, Tonya, a big-screen recounting of Harding’s rise to fame (and fall from grace) is currently in production. Directed by Craig Gillespie, the film will focus mainly on Harding, who will be played by Margot Robbie. Caitlin Carver, who appeared in the film adaptation of John Green’s Paper Towns, will play Kerrigan.

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