Olympic Symbolism

The Olympic Creed

"The most significant thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part.  Just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.  The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Barron Pierre de Coubertin

The Olympic Motto

"Citius, Altius, Fortius" expresses the aspiration of the Olympic movement.  Loosely translated from Latin the words mean "Swifter, Higher, Stronger."

Olympic Rings

The five circles of the Olumpic rings designed by modern Games founder Barron Pierre de Coubertin, represent the union of the five original major continents to compete in 1896, Africa, North America, Asia, Australia, and Europe - and the meeting of athletes from around the world at the end of the Games.  The five colors of the rings, from left to right, are blue, black, and red across the top and yellow and green along the bottom.  At least one of the colors can be found in the flag of every country participating in the Olympics.

The Athlete's Oath

"In the name of all competitor's, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern the, in the true spirt of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams."

Olympic Torch and Flame

The idea of lighting a flame for the duration of the Games comes from the ancient Greeks, who used a flame lit by the sun's rays at Olympia, the site of the original Games.  The Olympic flame made its first appearance in the modern Games in 1936 in Berlin and since then, the lighting of the flame has become the focal point of every Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies.

The flame is a symbol of peace among peoples and represents the basic spiritual significance of the Olympic movement.  Prior to each Olympic Games, cross-country runners relay a lighted torch from the valley of Olympia, Greece to the current Olympic Games site.  Thousands of runners representing the nations the torch passes through participate, and planes and ships take the torch across the mountains and the oceans.

The Olympic Flag

The Olympic Flag, which appeared in Olympic competition for the first time at Antwerp in 1920, has a white background with no border.  In the center are the five interlocking rings.

International Olympic Academy

Located at Olympia, Greece, the IOA provides educational programs based on the philosophy, spirt, ideals, principles, and values of the Olympic Games, Olympic Movement, and Olympism.


A symbol of peach, the doves are released at the opening ceremony to remind all peoples that the Olympic Games are held in an atmosphere of peace.

Sports Symbols

The familiar pictograms have become symbols of Olympic Sports, The Organizing Committee for each Games develops its own set of figures, which are used at the venues and are sold to commercial sponsors.  After the games are concluded the rights to these pictograms revert to the International Olympic Committee.  They cannot be used unless special permission is granted.


The medals - gold, silver, and bronze - represent the highest levels of athletic achievement at the Games.  The designing of the medal varies with each Olympic Games and is the responsibility of the host city's organizing committee.  Medal winners are honored during victory ceremonies in which the flags of their countries are raised in tribute.


The Opening and Closing Ceremonies, in which the athletes march into the main stadium country by country, celebrate the talent and dedication that brought them to this honored event.  The ceremonies also allow us to see the representatives of almost 200 or so participating countries together in one place.  The gathering symbolized the hope we all carry that, if the athletes can join as one in the name of sport, the countries of the world can exist peacefully together too.

Olympic Hymn

The Olympic Hymn is played whtn the Olympic Flag is raised.  The music was composed by Spirou Samara.  The words were added by Costic of Greece in 1896.

Ancient Immortal Spirit, Chaste Father
Of all that is Beauty, Grandeur and Truth
Descending appear with Thy presence
Illuminate Thine Earth and Heavens.

Shine upon noble endeavors wrought
at the Games on Track and in the Field
Crown with thy eternal evergreen branch
The bodies, making them stonger and worthy.

Dale, Mount, and Ocean, with Thy Light,
Is a white and purple temple, brighten!
To Thine Temple, To Thy Worship, come all.
Oh!Ancient Eternal Spirit!


Olympic Games mascots are selected by the local organizing committee of the host city.  In Lillehammer, human beings were selected as the mascots for the first time with Hakon and Kristin, who were named after historical figures from the 13th century.  In Atlanta, the official mascot was the computer generated "Izzy."  For Nagano in 1998, the mascots were collectively called "Snowlets," based on an owl motif.  Sydney had three mascots:  Syd, the kookaburra bird; Olly, the duck-billed platypuss; and Millie, the spiny anteater.

For Salt Lake City the mascots are a snowshoe hare, a coyote, and an American black bear.  The mascots are supposed to be representatives of the Olympic Motto, "Swifter, Higher, Stronger."

Source:  U.S. Olympic Committee