Post-war, the Olympic rings got new meaning. And it’s probably not what you’ve been told.

At the ancient Greek site Delphi, you'll find a stone altar, three feet tall, bearing a carving of the iconic Olympic rings.

Seeing this carving, it's easy to imagine it being chiseled into the stone by the very first Olympic champions — runners, wrestlers, and chariot racers — almost 3,000 years ago.

After all, the stone looks like you could trace it back to that time when the "games" were vicious battles played by athletes who offered sacrifices to the gods and feasted at ancient Olympic festivals.


And you wouldn't be the first to think that this stone was ancient.

Olympic ruins in Delphi. Image via yvanox/Pixabay.

American authors Lynn and Gray Poole visited Delphi in the late 1950s, and they thought the stone was an ancient relic, too. They even said so in their book, "History of the Ancient Olympic Games."

And before long, their story carried over to other publications, and it became accepted as fact that this stone in Delphi was the first, 3,000-year-old engraving of the iconic Olympic rings.

It's a great story, but here's the thing – it's not true.

The Olympic symbol we all recognize today was actually invented relatively recently by Pierre de Coubertin in 1913. Coubertin was president of the International Olympic Committee, co-founder of the modern Olympic Games, and a French aristocrat who loved boxing, fencing, and rowing.

Just the year before, the Summer Olympic Games had been held in Stockholm, and for the first time ever, athletes competed from all five inhabited parts of the world.

This inspired Coubertin to hand-draw the rings symbol as interlocked circles in five different colors (blue, yellow, black, green, and red). He created the design for the celebration of the International Olympic Committee's 20th anniversary in 1914.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Image via George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons.

"These five rings represent the five parts of the world now won over to Olympism and ready to accept its fertile rivalries," Coubertin wrote in the August 1913 Olympic Review. "Moreover, the six colours thus combined reproduce those of all the nations without exception."

In other words, no single ring represented a specific country, but the symbol as a whole on a white background included colors from all of the world's nations.

Coubertin had quite the reason to celebrate with the rings. By then, the IOC had successfully organized five Games — the first events of our modern Olympics.

Reviving the Games had also been Coubertin's idea. He idolized the ancient Greeks as athletes and as warriors, so it makes sense that the Olympics reflect their traditions at every step.

Coubertin's passion also explains why he would want to highlight those first five events. Some people supported him when he first introduced the idea of the modern Olympics, but nobody expected such explosive success.

Opening ceremony of the 1912 Olympic Games. Image via "The Olympic Games of Stockholm 1912 Official Report"/Wikimedia Commons.

That's why, as historian David Young says, it’s likely that Coubertin chose five rings to represent the first five Games.

And after the 1916 Summer Games in Berlin, Coubertin had hoped to add a sixth ring to the symbol, and many more after that, to honor each host country. He apparently envisioned eventually having a flag full of vibrant rings, reflecting a global array of nations.

But World War I thwarted Coubertin's plans to add more rings. In fact, it shut down the next Olympic Games altogether.

The rings' peaceful sentiment from pre-World War I Europe was gone. It was a whole new world — and one at war. Because of the fighting, the 1916 Games were canceled, and Coubertin's rings would have to wait to be presented to the world.

The war ended in 1918. But even for people in victorious countries like France and the United States, times were still tough. Survivors of the war were cynical, aimless, and traumatized. Gertrude Stein even named them The Lost Generation for that reason.

In that post-war climate, it must have been quite a task to reconvene the Games — no cynic would be interested in unity after different countries had just tried to annihilate each other. Even the IOC's basic task of identifying the participating countries was complicated, to say the least. The war had led to the establishment of new nations, like Czechoslovakia. And some of the previously participating nations, like Germany and and Austria, were banned after losing the war.

But finally, at the 1920 Olympics in Belgium, the Olympic rings made their debut, appearing on a white flag.

The Olympic flag flies in British Columbia in 2012. Image via Scazon/Flickr.

To address the hopelessness in the air, Coubertin adjusted his plans. Instead of a ring for each host country, he decided to keep the five rings, with each representing the "five continents" that come together for the Olympic Games.

His definition of "continent" is now a little outdated — he was referring to Africa, Asia, America, Australia, and Europe. But that message of unity resonated at the time, and it has continued to resonate throughout the years.

In fact, Coubertin's logo became so prevalent that it showed up on a certain stone in Delphi, Greece.

Yep, that famous stone carving was actually created in 1936 — not in ancient Greek times. It was made as a movie prop for a torchbearers' ceremony and left behind after the year's Summer Olympic Games in Berlin.

Still, while that movie prop might have skewed the real story of the rings, it helped popularize the Olympic rings as a symbol of worldwide unity.

Image via Atos International/Wikimedia Commons.

And fortunately, the true meaning behind the rings has remained. Today, the official Olympic charter reads, "The Olympic symbol expresses the activity of the Olympic Movement and represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games."

Team USA's relationship with the Olympic rings symbol has spoken to worldwide unity from the very beginning. At those 1920 Olympics when the rings debuted, the United States flag bearer was Ireland-born track and field athlete Pat McDonald — the U.S.'s first foreign-born representative.

Celebrating global unity might have seemed like an impossible task after an event as dire as a world war, but Coubertin's work inspired people to do just that.

With one man's passion as the seed, a logo bloomed into more than just a logo. Now, the Olympic rings adorn a flag to signal a time for peace, for sportsmanship, and for breaking barriers between us by recognizing what unites us.

At the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Games, the rings will appear on Team USA's new heated parkas as we once again witness nations gathering from around the world.

It's no wonder that this symbol continues to bring us together. The Olympic rings have always carried hope for a more harmonious world, and they'll continue to do so in our future.

via ABC and Bee Gees / YouTube

A year ago a woman in Pearland, Texas helped save her husband's life because of her quick thinking and the sweet, four-on-the-floor disco beat of the Bee Gees.

After finishing a two-mile run with her husband Quan, Ganesa Collins watched him fall to the ground. "We sat on the bench, and he was in front of me," Collins told ABC. "I was standing behind and stretching, and he just went face forward. His head hit the dirt."

She quickly called 911 and the operator said he was having a heart attack.

Keep Reading Show less
via ABC and Bee Gees / YouTube

A year ago a woman in Pearland, Texas helped save her husband's life because of her quick thinking and the sweet, four-on-the-floor disco beat of the Bee Gees.

After finishing a two-mile run with her husband Quan, Ganesa Collins watched him fall to the ground. "We sat on the bench, and he was in front of me," Collins told ABC. "I was standing behind and stretching, and he just went face forward. His head hit the dirt."

She quickly called 911 and the operator said he was having a heart attack.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."