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The Symbols Behind the Olympic Games

Jul 4, 2008
With the increasing commercialism of the Olympics, sporting scandals, and political overtones, it is often hard to remember what the Olympic Games stand for. In reality, this iconic sporting event has a rich history of symbolisms to represent its ideals.

One of the most famous symbols in the world is the Olympic emblem: five interlocking rings in the colors of blue, yellow, black, green, red with a white background. As described by the founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, the rings represent the five inhabited continents of the world, united by Olympism.

The emblem of the Games is also seen on its flag. This flag holds special significance as it is raised at the beginning of the opening ceremony and lowered when the Games close. As well, the flag is used by one athlete and one judge from the host nation to take the Olympic Oath. To remain true to the Games, the Oath is taken on behalf of others. It is an act to remind all athletes and judges to honor the spirit of the Games, without drugs and doping, and to abide by impartiality when judging.

Another iconic symbol of the Olympics is the Flame. The Olympic torch is ignited months in advance in Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics. The torch is then relayed throughout the world in celebration for the upcoming Olympiad. Finally, the torch reaches the main stadium of the host city in order to ignite the cauldron centerpiece at the opening ceremony. This act officially starts the Olympic Games and is usually done with much fanfare and mystery as how the cauldron will ignite and who will be the last torch bearer. The flame burns bright for the remainder of the Games until it is extinguished at the closing ceremonies.

Finally, perhaps what distinguishes each Olympic Games from others is their chosen mascot. For most host countries, they pick a native animal to represent their country with a story or background describing the animal. And for some countries, they have even more than one mascot to support the theme of their particular Olympiad. A great example of weaving culture into the Games are the mascots for the Beijing Olympics.

Collectively, the Beijing mascots are known as FUWA or "friendlies". In keeping with tradition, these mascots represent animals important in the Chinese culture such as the fish, the giant panda, the Tibetan antelope, the swallow, and last but not least, to honor the Olympics, the flame. What makes the mascots memorable is that they each have a specific color as per the Olympic rings - truly tying the culture of the Chinese into the symbolism of the Olympics.

So next time you come across an Olympic symbol, remember that there's a meaning behind it all.
About the Author
Mariam Ma is a writer for Olympic Blvd, a site that celebrates all things related to the Olympic Games. To celebrate the 29th Olympiad, check out the personalities of the Beijing Olympics FUWA mascots and buy FUWA dolls as souvenirs.
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