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What do the Olympic rings represent?

The colorful symbol of the Olympics has two, connected meanings.

WASHINGTON — The five interlocking rings that make up the Olympic logo are one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. But there are actually two meanings behind the colorful imagery. 

The rings were introduced in 1913, according to the International Olympic Committee. In the center of a white background, the rings appear in the order of blue, yellow, black, green and red. The rings made their official debut seven years later at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.

The logo has received minor variations of the years, including white spaces between the rings where they intersect with each other. By 2010, it had reverted to its original form with no spaces. 

The first, and most obvious meaning, is tied to the colors. 

According to Rule 8 of the Olympic Charter, “The Olympic symbol expresses the activity of the Olympic Movement and represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.”

The five continents referred to are Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and Oceana. 

The ring colors on the white background represent the nations of the world. Every country in the world has at least one of these five colors on their flag (although they might be a different shade).

The other meaning is referenced at the end of the rule: the meeting of athletes. 

All five rings are interconnected, symbolizing how the games bring the world together to compete. 

"These five rings represent the five parts of the world now won over to the cause of olympism and ready to accept its fecund rivalries," Olympic Movement founder Pierre de Coubertin said of the symbol.

Credit: AP
The United States team arrives during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

That second meaning is especially relevant in the 2022 Winter Games. Several countries, including the U.S., have committed to diplomatic boycotts of the Games over China's human rights abuses. 

Credit: AP
Kevin Rolland and Tessa Worley, of France, carry their national flag into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

And the Games this year take place within the context of possible war. Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine in a possible precursor to an invasion of the western-backed nation. 

Despite the looming threat, Russian President Vladamir Putin traveled to Beijing to watch the Opening Ceremony and meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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