One has to admire the timeless beauty and simplicity of the Olympic Rings design. It was Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, who in 1913, first came up with the idea of the five interlocking rings. However, it was not until the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, that the logo was incorporated into the Olympic in flag. A lot of people ask “What do the five rings represent?” The five rings represent the five competing continents: Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and “the Americas”. (Yeah, it seems like there should be six to me too.) Despite the fact that each ring is a different color, it is not the case that each individual ring represents a specific continent. That leads to the question “What do the colors of the Olympic rings mean?” It seems that the colors, which in order are blue, yellow, black, green, and red, were chosen because every flag of every competing nation has at least one of these colors in its flag. (No word yet on what changes the IOC will implement if some competing nation adopts a hot pink flag with a field of purple stars.)
The rings are a stark contrast to the awkward looking corporate logos that were common during the same time period such as these from 3M, IBM and John Deere.
This image of the 1920 Olympic Programme was the earliest depiction of the Rings that I could find online. Check out the advertisement for cigarettes on the cover. On one hand, we can be smug about how such an ad would never be allowed today. On the other hand, with Coke and McDonald’s being likely advertisers today, perhaps that smugness is misplaced. See “Supersize Me” for additional information.
The Olympic Rings Logo is recognized world wide, and understandably, it is vigorously protected in the courts by the IOC. There are many who want to politicize the Olympics, or use the popularity of the Olympics as a vehicle to draw attention to their particular cause. The Rings Logo makes a wonderfully convenient visual device for these folks. The recent Olympic Torch Relay debacle in San Francisco is a perfect illustration of this. One photojournalist on the scene counted at least 20 different factions vying for attention. Check out his account here. The New York Times also did a great photo essay on this same topic. For the record, Paulano disagrees with the idea of mixing the Olympics and political protest.
With respect to the idea of protecting the Rings Logo and the Olympic Brand identity, the IOC can sometimes be its own worst enemy. As evidence, check the mascots for the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The mascots for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver are no better. One of the mascots is a Bigfoot. Why is he wearing boots? He’s a Bigfoot! And does anyone remember Izzy, the Whatisit?
Currently, Kyle Design does not have a license to do Izzy, or any of the other IOC Characters. But she does have a lot of gift items with olympic themes, like soccer, swimming, baseball/softball, gymnastics, basketball, weightlifting, cycling, equestrian, crewing, sculling, sailing, tennis and volleyball. And IOC, if you are listening, I know just the business to handle all your etched-metal Olympic Rings Design gift items. Have your people call my people.