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Sports

The symbolism of Olympic logos

The PyeongChang Winter Olympics may be over, but there’s already chatter about the next games. On Wednesday, Tokyo released the official mascots of the 2020 Summer Olympics: a pair of futuristic digital characters chosen by more than 200,000 classes at elementary schools in Japan.

Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty

The announcement comes almost two years after the unveiling of the Tokyo 2020 logo in 2016 — which was redesigned after a plagiarism scandal — and two months after the revealing of the Beijing 2022 logo.

Commissioned years in advance, the logos shape the Olympics’ visual identity by drawing inspiration from the culture and style of the host countries. There’s no pleasing everyone, though, as controversy has followed both past and future Olympic logos.

Let’s explore the symbolism behind the next two Olympic logos — Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 — and the visual history of the past five games.

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Tokyo 2020

This logo was inspired by “ichimatsu moyo,” a checkered pattern from the Edo period. “I can’t be an athlete but I have felt a longing towards the Olympics since I was a child, and thought I can be involved through design,” creator Asao Tokoro said.

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Tokyo 2020

The modern iteration of the “ichimatsu moyo” allows for flexibility, according to Wired. The shapes — one square and two rectangles — snap together to create curved graphics.

Beijing 2022

The most recent of Olympic logos to be revealed, Beijing 2022, blends elements from traditional and contemporary Chinese culture. Artist Lin Cunzhen designed the calligraphic logo.

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Beijing 2022

The logo’s inspiration was the Mandarin character 冬, which translates to “winter.” The color blue represents dreams and the “purity of ice and snow,” while red and yellow, seen in China’s flag, represent passion and youth.

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PyeongChang 2018

Created by Korean designer Ha Jong-joo, the logo uses the symbols ㅍ and ㅊ. They represent, respectively, the first consonants in the first and second syllable of PyeongChang in the Korean alphabet, Hangul.

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PyeongChang 2018

The emblem on the left is inspired by the character ㅍ and expresses the harmony of heaven, earth and man.

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PyeongChang 2018

The emblem on the right is inspired by the character ㅊ and represents snow, ice and winter sports. Some have noted its resemblance to a snowflake.

Rio 2016

Fred Gelli, creative director of the firm Tatil Design de Ideias, which created the logo, blends nature into his projects and keeps biologists on his team. He said the logo pays tribute to Brazil’s topography, notably Sugarloaf Mountain.

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Rio 2016

“We chose a strong icon of people hugging because it’s a symbol that everybody can understand,” Gelli told Designboom. He also said the use of green, blue and orange are a nod to Brazil’s colorful culture and weather.

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Sochi 2014

Designed by Interbrand, the Sochi 2014 logo features only lowercase, futuristic-looking letters with the five Olympic rings and a Web address. Not everyone was a fan of the digital-first approach, and the logo had mixed reviews.

London 2012

Wolff Olins, a branding consultancy, created the London 2012 logo. The logo’s use of typography as art was so polarizing that about 48,000 people called for its redesign, but the petition closed in two days.

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London 2012

"The mark itself came from an energy grid we drew of lines that moved around, contained within a rectangle. ... This idea of freeform is right at the heart of the brand,” Brian Boylan, chairman of Wolff Olins, told Adweek.

Vancouver 2010

The Vancouver 2010 logo featured a stylized version of an inukshuk, an Inuit symbol designed as a directional marker and signifying — among other meanings — safety, hope and friendship.

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Vancouver 2010

As is with Olympic logos, not everyone was pleased. Peter Irniq, a former commissioner of the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut, was put off by the logo’s human form, as it could indicate suicide or murder. "They're fake!" Irniq told NPR.

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Placed on every helmet banner and sign, these logos represent more than just cool design. As visual symbols, they represent the culture of their host countries and embody the spirit of the Olympics.