Pierre de Coubertin created the Olympic Flag circa 1913 from a doodle based on a five-rings symbol engraved on an altar-stone unearthed at Delphi. The five rings symbolize the five major regions of the world: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania committed to Olympism and willing to accept healthy competition. The interconnection of the rings symbolizes the friendship to be gained from these international competitions. The rings, from left to right, are blue, yellow, black, green, and red. The colours were chosen because at least one of them appeared on the flag of every country in the world. He presented the rings and flag in June 1914 in Paris at the Olympic Congress.
The First World War prevented the Games from being celebrated in 1916 in Berlin (Germany). It was not until 1920 in Antwerp (Belgium) that the flag and its five rings could be seen flying in an Olympic stadium. After the First World War (1914-18) Nationalism was very strong and the tension between certain countries high. The universality conveyed by the symbol and the flag aimed to encourage world unity. At the end of the Antwerp Games, the flag could not be found and a new Olympic flag had to be made for the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.
As a result of the flag going missing at the end of the Antwerp Olympics, at the closing ceremony (or Antwerp Ceremony) the Olympic flag is passed from the mayor of next host city. The flag is taken and displayed at city hall for next four years until the Opening Ceremony of their Olympic Games. The 1924 flag continued to be used at the Summer Olympics until the Games of Seoul 1988 when it was retired.
The absence of the original flag remained a mystery for over seventy years. Then in 1977, at an Olympic Committee banquet, American, Haig "Hal" Prieste, a bronze medallist at the 1920 Olympics in platform diving, revealed, he climbed the flagpole and stole the Olympic flag at the suggestion of Duke Kahanamoku.
At a special ceremony at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Prieste, (now 103), returned the Olympic flag which is kept at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Olympic flags are now designed and created specifically for each games, which are flown over the host stadium and then retired. Because there is no specific flag for this purpose, the flags flown over the stadiums generally have subtle differences, including minor color variations, and, more noticeably, the presence (or lack) of white outlines around each ring. The Olympic symbol, flag and emblems are the exclusive property of the International Olympic Committee and cannot be used without the IOC’s authorisation. This symbol is among the most widely recognised symbols in the world.
The Olympic Museum