Olympic Rings

I feel ashamed for askign seeing as I am a classics major, but what is the significance of the 5 rings that signify the olympic emblem??

I think they are supposed to represent the five continents of the world but I may be remembering that wrong.

5 continents (Inhabited continents, and Americas not North and South) but yes 5 continents. Also, the colors are so chosen because every country’s flag has at least one of those colors in it.

Continents, and the colors are on all flags. Well, when it was designed, the Olympic rings had at least one color ring that was a color on a national flag. You know what I mean!



That’s the usual answer:


That answer is enshrined in history, but it wasn’t meant to be thus:


To get the five rings to represent the continents, the Americas were considered together as one. This remains so, even though South Americans send teams, as they may not have pre-WWI. The “Australia” ring is now taken to mean “Oceania.”

great, thanks everyone :smiley:

slight threadjack here…

Is this truly a commonly held belief in Europe? I ask because 20 years ago I spent a summer in Germany with a German family, and a heated debate broke out during a game of “Risk” between myself and my German hosts over the number of continents that the gameboard depicted. I thought their insistence that all of the Americas was one continent was just isolated ignorance on their part; I’m now shocked to hear it’s more widespread.

Well, the number of continents is derived by purely arbitrary means, so your German hosts were no more “ignorant” than you were.

As Wikipedia says:

It seems rather strange to think of the Americas (which are only connected by a thin strip of land) as one continent, but to think of Europe and Asia (which are totally connected) as two.

I think that it is easier to divide asia and europe becuase of the different cultures living in the ‘two’ continents

Not in the UK, at least. We’re taught that there are seven continents (North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, Australasia and Antarctica)

Yeh I would have guessed it to be 7 or 8 (incl. Arctic)

I’ve been to the Arctic, and the North Pole. There’s no land there, and certainly no Arctic continent, just frozen ocean.

How in the world do the justify europe and asia as seperate contintents? This is the most disgusting example of ethnocentricism as i have ever seen… Being an ethnocentricist and a horrible speller i should know!

Straight from the Dope’s mouth

Yes, it’s a commonly held “belief”. But it has nothing to do with ignorance. The continents are divided arbitrarily. There’s no objective reason to consider Europe and Asia as two continents, nor to decide that south and north america are different continents, or that Iceland is part of the european continent, for instance. So, it just comes down to “what we are traditionnally taught at school”. And it’s true for both your and your german friend’s opinion on the issue.

There are two common answers to the question about the number of continents: Five (Europe, Asia, Africa, Americas, Australia) and seven (Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia), as has already been said. I think the fivers are the majority; might have historical reasons combined with ethnocentricism - after all, South America was discovered (and named “America”) before North America, and to 16/17th century Europeans that never left their home country the need for drawing a difference here was not that bitter since it was all felt to be one thing anyway. So while Europe, Asia and Africa had been recognized as separate continents for millennia, America was added as number four without ever being divided into two parts; indeed, many European baroque buildings have frescoes depicting the four continents of the time - Europe, Asia, Africa, (South) America. When Australia/Oceania was discovered, it was felt necessary to add another continent, making up five. Antarctica was never seen to count because of being uninhabitable. But combining Europe and Asia into one continent, which might look acceptable on the map, is totally uncommon here.

In the end it comes down to what your teacher told you.