Olympic Urban Legends Revealed #3

This is the third in a series of examinations of legends related to the Olympics and whether they are true or false.

Let’s begin!

OLYMPIC LEGEND: The rings of the Olympic flag were meant to stand for the five continents of Earth.


If you look in the Olympic charter, the explanation given for the five interlocking rings of the Olympic flag is that they represent (among other things, like passion, faith, victory, work ethic, and sportsmanship) the five continents of Earth.

For their to be only five continents, Antarctica is omitted and North and South America are counted as one continent.

So it would be the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe.

However, this is NOT what the rings were originally intended to represent.

Originally, Pierre de Coubertin, president of the International Olympic Committee, intended the rings to represent (along with passion, faith, victory, work ethic, and sportsmanship) the five Olympics that had been held at that point (1913). His idea was that for every Olympic held, a ring would be added, until the flag was a giant mix of rings standing as a symbol of peace and unity among the world.

However, the next Olympics, the 1916 one, was canceled due to World War I, so by the time the Olympics had picked up again, the five rings had become pretty much set in stone, and the new (and current) reasoning behind the rings were decided upon.

OLYMPIC LEGEND: Five years before winning a Gold medal, an Olympic athlete was declared dead at the scene of a plane crash.

STATUS: Basically True

In 1928, 16-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Robinson of Illinois became the first female winner of a Olympic Gold Medal, as Robinson won the 100 meter race (she also won a Silver Medal in the 4×100 meter relay race).

Tragically, in 1931, the 18-year-old Robinson was in a horrific plane crash.

Astonishingly, when she was found on the scene of the crash, she was declared dead and a local man put her “corpse” into the trunk of his car and drove her to the undertaker.

Once there, it was discovered that she was still breathing – she was just in a deep coma.

Robinson eventually came out of the coma after SEVEN MONTHS, but it was another six months until she got out of a wheelchair.

After two years of therapy, Robinson was able to run again, but she could not bend her legs to assume a crouch position to start a race, so she could not compete in the 100 meter race. However, since she COULD still run, she competed with the 1936 American women’s team in the 4×100 meter relay race, and they won!!

Her second Gold Medal is one of the most remarkable achievements in Olympic history. Robinson retired after the 1936 Games. She later married (taking her husband’s last name of Schwartz) and continued to be involved in athletics as an official.

She passed away in 1999 at the age of 87.

OLYMPIC LEGEND: Joe Frazier qualified for the Olympics due to Buster Mathis suffering an injury – an injury Mathis suffered when he defeated Frazier in the qualifying rounds!!


Hard luck losses are typical, but rarer are hard luck WINS, and that’s what happened to boxer Buster Mathis in the qualifying rounds of the 1964 Olympics.

Mathis was trying to qualify to compete in the Olympics as the American heavyweight contender.

The 300-pound Mathis ended up winning the chance by defeating fellow American boxer Joe Frazier in the qualifiers.

However, during the fight, Mathis broke his finger on Frazier.

So Mathis had to pull out, and the man he broke his finger on, Joe Frazier, took his spot on the U.S. squad and went on to win the Gold Medal in the 1964 Olympics!

Amusingly enough, Frazier ended up breaking HIS thumb in the second round of the Olympics! Knowing what happened to Mathis, Frazier told no one about it until after the Olympics were finished!

After the Olympics, Mathis and Frazier both had strong professional careers. The pair matched up again in 1968 when they fought for the right to take over the heavyweight crown vacated by Muhammed Ali (who was stripped of his crown for his refusal to go to Vietnam).

Mathis also lost to Ali in 1971.

Sadly, after his career was over, Mathis suffered a number of health problems, including an eating problem that saw his weight balloon to over 550 pounds by the time he died in 1995 of a heart attack.

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

5 Responses to “Olympic Urban Legends Revealed #3”

  1. [...] stated in an earlier edition of Olympic Legends Revealed, there is a popular misconception that the rings of the Olympic flag originally stood for the five [...]

  2. “In 1928, 16-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Robinson of Illinois became the first female winner of a Olympic Gold Medal”

    Say what? You mean no woman was awarded a gold medal before that? I thought that women competed in the Games years before 1928!

  3. First US female gold medalist perhaps? Women first competed at Paris in 1900, and Charlotte Cooper won a tennis competition to be the first female champion.
    There were medals awarded in 1900 as well, but most champions received trophies.
    You may want to update this one.
    Love your work, though.

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  5. [...] Find out about the Olympic contestant who won a Gold Medal five years after being spoken passed on t… [...]

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