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Olympics - Flag Stories about the Olympic Games

Last modified: 2014-05-29 by zoltán horváth
Keywords: olympic games | international olympic committee | comit&eacue; international olympique | sports organization | ring | flag | ioc | cio |
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[The Olympic flag]
image by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán
Flag adopted: 1914.

Because of the large number of flags that athletes participate under at the Olympic Games, there are quite a few stories to tell about them. This is only a short selection:


See also: Other site:

People from some far away continent (London 1908, Stockholm 1912)

[Flag for the Australasian Olympic team.] image by Juan Manuel Gabino, 22 September 2000

During the early days of the Olympic Movement, Australia and New Zealand were represented jointly by one IOC member for "Australasia". They even competed as a joint Australasian team, during the Olympic Games of 1908 and 1912, using a special Australasian flag.

Unfortunately, it's not clear whether this was a team flag only, or whether it was also used by the organizations of the Games to represent Australasia. A photograph taken at London 1908 shows that, at least during the Parade of Flags, Australia was represented by its own flag.
International Olympic Committee Website, July 2000
Flagmaster 84 [fLm], Autumn 1996
De Olympiske Lege gennem 100 år 1896 - 1996, 1996


A king is merely a mortal? (London 1908)

The Parade of Flags was introduced at the IVth Olympic Games, London 1908, and King Edward VII himself was the Head of State to whom all flags were dipped in salute as the athletes marched in. That is, all flags except the flag of the USA. To the fury of King Edward, the USA shot-putter Ralph Rose refused to pay him respect by dipping the Stars & Stripes.

One reason given for this is that the flag of the United States is lowered for no mortal man. And after all, a king is merely a mortal! And that to this day, the Stars & Stripes is the only flag that is not dipped when the Head of State is saluted during the Parade of Flags. However, poetic as this explanation may be, it's not clear whether such a rule for the USA flag existed in 1908. The rule is part of the first USA Flag Code, but that Flag Code wasn't drawn up until 1923. On the other hand, in the early 20th century, veterans of the Union Army in the American Civil War waged a campaign against what they considered indignities to the Stars & Stripes, and the rule against dipping the American flag may have originated from that campaign.

Another possible explanation lies in the fact that the London organization, when decorating the stadium, forgot to display the flags of Sweden and the United States. The Swedish team in turn did not take part in the Parade of Flags; the USA team did take part in the parade, but they got even and made sure their flag was clearly visible this time: They refused to dip it in salute to the king.

The truth, as happens so often, may be a combination of both. However, quite surprisingly, on a photograph taken in London when the parade of flags had finished, all teams can be seen greeting the royal family with their flags. Even though the photograph is in black & white the dipped American flag can be made out quite clearly. Of course, this does not tell us what happened in the course of the parade, but it does show that during London 1908 there was at least one occasion where the flag bearer did indeed dip the Stars & Stripes.
Flagmaster 84 [fLm], Autumn 1996
Olympic Games - Britannica.com, 2000
Joseph McMillan, 30 August 2000
De Olympiske Lege gennem 100 år 1896 - 1996, 1996


The Austr-al-ian Flag Goof (?? 19??)

During one of the Games of the early 1900's, perhaps the first where Australia participated as an independent "entity", their athletes weren't expected to do too well, and the Local Olympic Committee didn't think to procure Australia's flag (which was rather new at the time.) Since this was apparently before the Parade of Flags was introduced, which would have required each country's flag at the outset, when one of the athletes from Down Under actually did do well enough to qualify for a medal, the LOC had a problem. In order to have a flag for each of the three medal winners, they figured that "Austria" sounded a lot like "Australia", so they raised the red/white/red flag.

If this incident really did occur, the British Union Flag would probably have been a better alternative than the Austrian flag. But exactly at which Olympic Games this took place is a bit of a mystery:
This could only have occurred after 1901, when Australia gained independence, and before 1908, when at the London Games the Parade of Flags was introduced; in other words: St. Louis 1904, and the Intermediate Games Athens 1906. Since Australia's only participant in the St. Louis Games did not win a medal, this suggests it must have happened at Athens 1906.
However, Olympic Games prior to London 1908 awarded only two medals per event and on top of that, award ceremonies where flags are raised for the medal winners were first introduced in Los Angeles 1932!
Which Games then, may have been the stage for this little comedy?
Nick Artimovich, 22 February 1996


Wrong Olympic flag?

I read this short story in my daughter's girly magazine. I do not know is it true.
"During a try-out of the opening ceremony at the Olympic Games in Sapporo in 1972, one attentive spectator noticed that the order of the Olympic rings at the Olympic flag is wrong (not blue-yellow-black-green-red).
Organizers have examined the question and realized that the "wrong" Olympic flag was used 20 years since 1952."
Victor Lomantsov,  27 February 2014

I suddenly encounter this on the net, and I assume that there's some truth in it. But:
Have all Olympic Games from 1952 up to 1972 used a wrong stadium flag or a wrong ceremonial flag? No.
Not that I've checked them, but if it were so, then by now every boy and his dog would have found that flag in Olympic Opening ceremony videos, and we would know exactly what the order of the rings was, rather than just what the order wasn't.
So, to dissect this story: Why 1952? Well, tracing back from 1972, we find that in 1952 a new flag was introduced, so that must be the source of the problem. Except, what was introduced at the time was the Oslo flag. And since the Oslo flag still travels from Winter Olympics to Winter Olympics -- even though now a replica is used in the actual ceremonies -- we know very
well what it looks like. And what it looks like is: A white flag with perfectly right Olympic Rings. I haven't checked whether they might have torn the Oslo flag apart in Sapporo and sewn it together in a different order, but unless that is indeed the case, the ceremonial flag is not the problem.
Thus, our hope lies with the stadium flag. Indeed, games do sometimes reuse material from the previous games, so this would not be impossible. And people often think the stadium flag is the one called "Antwerp Flag"/"Oslo Flag", so it would all seem to fit. Well, I have both 1968 stadium flags on file, and they look fine to me, but colour film was not all that colourful at the time, so I'll attach the images - or rather just the rings, for size reasons - to let you make up your own mind.

[Olympic rings]  [Olympic rings]
images by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 27 February 2014

A spectator may have noticed a wrong flag, and it may have been brought to the attention of the organisers. And it may even be that the organisers passed the blame to their predecessors. But that's as far as it goes, unless we're talking about the same insignificant type of flag that Prieste really stole in Antwerp.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 27 February 2014

That would be very strange, since the flag that was handed down over the years (at the winter olympics) is called the "Oslo" flag. It was in use since 1952 and was handed over last week to the mayor of Pyeongchang (Korea).
Herman De Wael, 28 February 2014