Modern Olympics Symbols And Traditions
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 since1896. 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.
Rings and Flag
Each of the five Olympic rings is a different color designed on a white background. It is believed that every national flag in the world contains at least one of the flag’s six colors (black, blue, green, red, yellow, white). Together, they represent the five inhabited continents, although no particular ring is meant to represent any specific continent. The rings are interlaced to represent the idea that the Olympics are universal, bringing athletes from the entire world together.
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.
Flame and Torch
The ancient Greeks believed that fire was given to mankind by Prometheus, and considered fire to have sacred qualities. The Olympic flame is lit in front of the ruins of the Temple of Hera in Olympia, emphasizing the connection between the ancient Games and the modern Games. An actress playing a high priestess uses a parabolic mirror to focus the rays of the sun, igniting a flame. A long relay of runners carrying torches brings it to the site of the Games. There, the final torch is used to light a cauldron that remains lit until it is extinguished in the Closing Ceremony.
Release of Doves
After the cauldron is lit, doves are released, as a symbol of peace. This was first done in the 1896 Olympics, and then in the 1920 Olympics. Since 1920, this has been an official part of the Opening Ceremony of the Summer Games. They are generally not released during the Winter Games, because it’s too cold for the birds, but symbolic substitutions are sometimes used. In the 1994 Winter Games, for example, white balloons were released.
The Olympic Oath
The Olympic Oath is taken by one athlete and one judge from the home nation during the Opening Ceremony of every Olympics, acting on behalf of all the competitors and judges. Since 1984, this has been taken while holding a corner of the Olympic flag. Until then, the national flag of the home nation was used.
Memorable Olympic Moments
1. The 1912 Greco-Roman wrestling match in Stockholm between Finn Alfred Asikainen and Russian Martin Klein lasted more than 11 hours. Klein eventually won but was too exhausted to participate in the championship match so he settled for the silver.
2. World record, but no gold medal: In 1924, American Robert LeGendre shattered the world long jump record with a leap of 25 feet, four inches. However, the jump was part of the pentathlon competition and LeGendre could muster only a third-place finish overall. The actual long jump competition was won with a jump of 24 feet, five inches.
3. Poland’s Stella Walsh won the women’s 100-meter race at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, becoming the first woman to break the 12-second barrier. When she was killed in 1980 as an innocent victim in a robbery attempt, an autopsy declared her to be a male.
4. Danish rider Lis Hartel won the silver medal in the 1952 equestrian dressage event in Helsinki. Hartel suffered from an inflammation of the spinal cord known as poliomyelitis, which required her to be lifted on and off her horse each time.
5. In the men’s team gymnastics competition in 1976, Japan’s Shun Fujimoto actually broke his kneecap while performing in the floor exercise. The following day, however, he needed a top-notch performance in the rings for Japan to secure the gold. With no pain killers, he performed a near flawless routine and stuck the landing, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on his injured knee. He grimaced in pain as he held his position for the judges, and then finally collapsed in agony. Japan won the team gold by just four tenths of a point over the Soviet Union.
6. In 1928, reportedly six of the eight entrants in the women’s 800-meter race collapsed at the finish line in an “exhausted state.” Poor training methods and the brutal Amsterdam sun were the two major causes of distress. That event was subsequently cancelled until 1960.