The Olympic symbol or ‘Olympic Rings’ is one of the most well-known symbols in the world and it is also one that has stood the test of time. I’ve been a fan of the Olympic Games ever since my home city hosted the games when I was a child, those games being the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. I can also attribute my passion for design and my take-up of design tools early in my childhood to the games themselves. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to design such an iconic and widely known logo and how I would pull that off if the Olympics would ever return to my country. 

As of a few weeks ago, that exact scenario happened, on the 21st July of this year in a venue in Tokyo, the IOC announced that the games would be returning to Australia and that Brisbane was the successful bid for the games in 2032. My mind soon became a buzz, not only as a result of the excitement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics but for the fact that I could let my mind wander as to what a games in Brisbane would look like. 

Over the weeks that followed and as a result of some significant time to myself as a result of Sydney going into lockdown due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, I found myself wondering what a Brisbane 2032 logo and brand could look like. This lead me to dig into the history, the why and how an Olympic logo comes to be and what it means for an Olympic Logo to be selected as the icon to represent a nation. 

The Olympic Rings

The Olympic Rings are so iconic that you could ask almost anyone in the world to draw them for you and they’d be successful at it, it’s elegance and its simplicity is what has made this design stand the test of time and remain the same since it’s inception in 1913 by Coubertin. The symbol is made up of five interlocking rings, coloured blue, yellow, black, green and red on a white field, with each ring intended to represent the five continents: Europe, Africa, Asia, America and Oceania. The colours reflect the colours of every competing country’s flag at the time. 

Coubertin described the logo in the August 1913 edition of Olympique as the following:

“… the six colours [including the flag’s white background] combined in this way reproduce the colours of every country without exception. The blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece, the tricolour flags of France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Hungary, and the yellow and red of Spain are included, as are innovative flags of Brazil and Australia, and those of ancient Japan and modern China. This, truly, is an international emblem.”

The Olympic Rings finally made their debut at the 1920 Summer Olympics after being delayed by the outbreak of World War I. However, the symbol’s popularity and widespread use didn’t come till the lead-up to the 1936 Summer Olympics. 

Host City Logos

Host city logos tend to combine the Olympic Rings, the name and year of the games, and a logo mark that is representative of the ideals, aspirations, and location of the games. The host city logos can often be broken down into categories and in this blog post, I’ll be segmenting these logos into categories, comparing, contrasting, and analysing the logos for trends to help inspire the next generation of Olympic logos. I’ve gathered Olympic Logos dating back to London’s Olympic Games in 1948.

Olympic Flame

The Olympic Flame and Torch are key symbols of the Olympic Games, often associated with the lead-up to and beginning of the games. The Flame is symbolic of the link between the Ancient and Modern Games, it is used to convey the message the games have arrived and to inspire hope within a population. Some host cities have used the symbol of the flame as a core element of their logo such as Atlanta 1996, whilst others have only subtlety incorporated the shape of the flame into their design such as Paris 2024 and Sydney 2000. 

The use of the Olympic flame is iconic and roots the logo back to its core identity, however is often unimaginative and relies on the Olympic identity rather than the identity of the host city or nation.

Athletes in motion

The symbol of an athlete mid-run or jump has been used by three host cities; Sydney 2000, Beijing 2008, and Barcelona 1992. Each of these logos presents a similar silhouette of a person leaping or running to the right to represent motion moving forward, action and sport. 

Similar to the use of the Olympic Flame, the use of an athlete in motion without any additional styling (as seen in the Barcelona 1992 logo) can be seen as unimaginative in regards to the expression of a country or cities culture. Sydney 2000 and Beijing both combat this by integrating other symbols within their meaning. Sydney 2000 showcases the flame, a boomerang, and even the silhouette of the Opera House within its design. Beijing 2008 is in the shape and style of the ‘Dancing Beijing’ seal, a symbol with historical significance within Chinese culture. 

People and groups

Whilst often a cliche in support and human services, as well as community groups, the use of this design sensibility, is surprisingly limited within-host city logos. 

Rio 2016 pulls this style off in an aesthetically pleasing and meaningful way, with the first logo which could be represented in a three-dimensional sculptural format for use in large scale public settings, digital animation and even gifts provided to athletes upon receiving a medal. The Rio 2016 logo also subtlety references the geographic formations of the Sugarloaf mountain of Rio. 

The Nagano logo combines this design sensibility with the concept of a blooming flower and a mountain top to make its logo unique. 

Olympic Medal

The Olympic Medal is another core symbol of the Olympic Games but is surprisingly used very infrequently with only Paris 2024 and the 1956 Winter Games utilising the medal symbology.

Whilst the Paris 2024 logo has been criticised publicly for its design, I am actually a fan of its elegance and simplicity, it’s a combination of three symbols including that of the Olympic medal showcases its conceptual complexity and represents the aspirations of the Paris games well.


Typographic logos utilise the name of the host city, the year of the games, or both as to its core identity and design element. The most iconic and controversial example of this is the London 2012 logo which utilises a stylised ‘2012’ design as its core design element with the word ‘London’ and Olympic rings overlaid. 

A design favourite is the Mexico 1968 logo which presents the word ‘Mexico’ alongside the number ’68’ in a line art style design with the Olympic rings overlaid to match the line art of the logo. 

The LA28 logo is a dynamic logo which we’ll speak more about later in trends but presents just the ‘L’ and ’28’ in an ultra-bold font with a rotating stylised ‘A’ as its main key design element.


The symbolic category is the most popular category with the icons of the host cities often representing a thematic of the games (aka snowflake) or representative of an architectural or sculptural element found within the city of local culture (aka Vancouver 2010 Inuit totem or Moscow representative of the Kremlin). 

Symbolic logos can often be the most creative (especially in recent times) and representative of the host city or nation’s culture.


Logos within the abstract category will often use shapes and lines in a unique way to form complex forms that are representative of aspirations, ideas, and movements.

Take the Tokyo 2020 Olympic logo, for example, it is comprised of three varieties of rectangular shapes which represent different countries, cultures, and ways of thinking coming together to become one, “Unity in Diversity.” 

Similarly, the Torino 2006 logo presents a stylised profile of the Mole Antonelliana building (a major landmark within Turin) drawn in white and blue ice crystals. This is representative of the snow and sky and the web of new technologies and the Olympic spirit of community. 

Olympic Logo Trends

Like the branding industry as a whole, the IOC and host city organising committees have had to respond to changing technologies, platforms, and expectations for what an Olympics logo should be. Especially considering that over the years the logo has taken on more importance for expressing the values of the games and is in almost constant view throughout the games whether that be on the broadcast, social media, physical locations, and more. Expectations for what the logo should be has also increased, with each logo being criticised and praised heavily online and around the world, with each logo being critiqued for its relevance, purpose, and association with the country and host city. 


As technology continues to evolve and branding will change to reflect its increasing presence online and in digital formats, logos will evolve from being a static image to being one that can change and morph to match its surroundings and its host city’s culture. Dynamic Olympic logos can already be found within the London 2012 logo changing its colours and patterns constantly to match its abstract design, whilst the LA28 logo adapts its ‘A’ to be an artwork by a local artist, creative or personality, to represent the diverse culture found within LA.

3D and AR/VR Friendly

Olympic logos will soon need to be able to exist within 3D environments where spectators and audiences will gather in the future, logos will need to be able to be identifiable from different angles and animate accordingly. The Rio 2016 is a recent example of a 3D logo that allowed itself to appear in physical spaces as a sculptural element, be given to athletes as a model along with their medals, and appear in animations for broadcast. 

Mirror-like reflection

As expectations rise logos will often need to represent more than a single idea, with the aim to reflect what the Olympics means to individual people within the host city or nation and even around the world. The logo will need to find a goldilocks zone of being easily identifiable and representing a host city or nation well and being open enough to interpretation for people to find themselves within it and make their own connection with its meaning. 

No matter the future of the Olympics, the logo will continue to shine the light and push the identity of the Olympics forwards not only for the event but for the world. The Olympics means a lot to many millions of people and are a beacon of hope, especially in dark times. 2020 and 2021 have shown the value that the Olympics can provide to nations and the logo is integral to that feeling.