Modern Olympic Symbols & Traditions:
Flames, Doves, Oaths, and More

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by Shmuel Ross


The Olympic motto is Citius—Altius—Fortius, which is Latin for "faster, higher, stronger." The intended meaning is that one's focus should be on bettering one's achievements, rather than on coming in first.

The motto has been with the Games from the foundation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894. It was proposed by the father of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, who got it from a speech given by a friend of his, Henri Didon, a Dominican priest and principal of an academy that used sports as part of its educational program.

Rings and Flag

Each of the five Olympic rings is a different color. Together, they represent the five inhabited continents, although no particular ring is meant to represent any specific continent. (The Americas are treated as one continent.) The rings are interlaced to represent the idea that the Olympics are universal, bringing athletes from the entire world together.

The Olympic flag places the Olympic rings on a white background. As every national flag in the world contains at least one of the flag's six colors (black, blue, green, red, yellow, white), this further symbolizes the universality of the Olympics.

The Olympic rings and flag were designed by de Coubertin after the 1912 Games in Stockholm. Those Games were the first to include athletes from all five continents. The rings were going to be used in the 1916 Games, but those games were canceled because of World War I, so the rings made their debut in the 1920 Games in Antwerp, Belgium.


The Olympic Anthem was written for the first modern Games in 1896, composed by Spyros Samaras to lyrics written by Kostis Palamas. Each subsequent Olympics through 1956 had its own musical composition, played as the Olympic flag was raised during the Opening Ceremony. From the 1960 Games onward, the Samaras/Palamas work has been the official anthem played at every Olympics.

The English translation of the anthem is as follows:
Immortal spirit of antiquity,
Father of the true, beautiful and good,
Descend, appear, shed over us thy light
Upon this ground and under this sky
Which has first witnessed thy unperishable fame

Give life and animation to those noble games!
Throw wreaths of fadeless flowers to the victors
In the race and in the strife!
Create in our breasts, hearts of steel!

In thy light, plains, mountains and seas
Shine in a roseate hue and form a vast temple
To which all nations throng to adore thee,
Oh immortal spirit of antiquity!

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