Every visitor takes a photo with the Olympic rings, but why?

Roberto Patriota and Thamyus Sihra take a photo with the Olympic Rings at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 7, 2016. (Sarah Stier | Ball State at the Games)

Roberto Patriota and Thamyus Sihra take a photo with the Olympic Rings at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 7, 2016. (Sarah Stier | Ball State at the Games)

As you walk down the sidewalk, you listen to the roar of the ocean waves, the music of various languages, and this occurs all while enjoying the bustling crowd. Suddenly the crowd comes to a stop, and everyone begins pulling out their phones.

You maneuver to the front, and you see five large circles: the Olympic rings.

Why do we have the Olympic rings? What do they symbolize? Who made them?

After taking a photo with an organization she is traveling with, Tammy Schneck of Tennessee said, “[The rings] represent all the countries and the coming together through peace and sports.”

To many, the rings represent an international event that happens every two years. To the athletes, the rings symbolize becoming the best of the best.

“All I wanted was to have a USA swim cap, and now that I have it, it’s like a crazy feeling, knowing that you’re swimming for your country,” said first-time Paralympian swimmer Elizabeth Smith, an Indiana native.

When asked, many people taking photos with the rings had no idea where they came from or when they began. Many thought the rings dated back to the original games in Greece and the colors were chosen from the primary color wheel. After being told otherwise, they were surprised.

The rings were actually designed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, cofounder of the modern Olympic Games, in 1912. In an article by Karl Lennartz in Volume 10 of “Journal of Olympic History,” Coubertin explained that the colors of the rings coincided with the colors on the flags of competing nations at the time.

“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.”

To this day, every country’s flag has at least one of the five ring colors present.

Coubertin also inferred each ring represents one of five continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas, and Oceania (Australia and Pacific nations). Although no color has ever been correlated with a particular continent, the entire world is represented.

Brazilians pose with their country's flag near the Olympic Rings at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 7, 2016. (Sarah Stier | Ball State at the Games)

Brazilians pose with their country’s flag near the Olympic Rings at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 7, 2016. (Sarah Stier | Ball State at the Games)

“I think it’s a symbol of the Olympics. Once anyone sees it, you have been at the Games,” said Pastor Titus Ijaopo of Nigeria. “People come because it’s beautiful.”

Walking up to the rings, there will be a crowd of people, a hundred selfies being taken, and many pictures of family and friends in front of the rings. People also climb into the actual rings, choosing their favorite colors for their pose.

While these photos are a symbol of the largest sporting event in the world, they’re also a tag many will use on social media. A few may hang a photo frame of their family with the rings in their living rooms, but most say the rings are just a statement of their presence.

Brad and Sabrina Gatzemeyer of Oregon said, “[The rings] symbolize something huge, and they’re not something you see anywhere else.”

Madeline Grosh is a Ball State University student and writer for Ball State at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and facebook.com/bsuatthegames on Facebook.  

Authors:
Madeline Grosh

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